Principles of Clinical Ethics and Their Application to Practice

Med Princ Pract. 2021;30(1):17-28. doi: 10.1159/000509119. Epub 2020 Jun 4.


An overview of ethics and clinical ethics is presented in this review. The 4 main ethical principles, that is beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice, are defined and explained. Informed consent, truth-telling, and confidentiality spring from the principle of autonomy, and each of them is discussed. In patient care situations, not infrequently, there are conflicts between ethical principles (especially between beneficence and autonomy). A four-pronged systematic approach to ethical problem-solving and several illustrative cases of conflicts are presented. Comments following the cases highlight the ethical principles involved and clarify the resolution of these conflicts. A model for patient care, with caring as its central element, that integrates ethical aspects (intertwined with professionalism) with clinical and technical expertise desired of a physician is illustrated.

Keywords: Autonomy; Confidentiality; Ethics; Informed consent; Integrated patient care model; Professionalism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Beneficence*
  • Confidentiality / ethics
  • Ethics, Clinical*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics
  • Morals
  • Negotiating
  • Patient-Centered Care / ethics*
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Problem Solving
  • Social Justice*
  • Truth Disclosure / ethics