First, let’s establish what the four principles of healthcare ethics are:
1) Autonomy 2) Beneficence 3) Non-maleficence 4) Justice
Developed in 1985 by Tom Beauchamp and James Childress in Principles of Biomedical Ethics, the four principles of health care ethics provide healthcare professionals like CNAs, LVNs, RNs, NPs & MDs with guidelines to make decisions when faced with complicated situations involving patients.
In medicine, autonomy refers to a patient’s’ right to maintain control over their body. Of course, Healthcare Professionals may suggest or give their advice, however any acts of persuasion, coercion, or attempts to affect patient decisions are violations of this principle. Ultimately, the patient must be allowed to make their own decisions – whether or not the medical provider believes these choices are in that patient’s best interests – independently and according to their personal values and beliefs.
Healthcare Providers must do everything in their power to benefit the patient in each situation. All procedures, treatments, guidance and care must be with the intention to do the most good for the patient. To ensure a high degree of beneficence, Healthcare Professionals must develop and maintain a high level of skill and knowledge, make sure that they are trained in the most current and best practices, and must consider their patients’ individual circumstances; remaining cognizant of the fact that what is good for one patient may not necessarily benefit another.
Non-maleficence is probably the best known of the four principles. In short, it means, “to do no harm.” This principle is intended to be the end goal for all of a practitioner’s decisions, and means that medical providers must consider whether other people or society could be harmed by a decision made, even if it is made for the benefit of an individual patient.
The salience of this principle is the concept of fairness in all medical decisions: fairness in decisions that may burden or that may benefit, as well as equal distribution of scarce resources and new treatments, and for Healthcare Professionals to uphold the integrity of applicable laws and legislation when making choices.
Though developed in 1985, these four principles are still relevant today for protecting & safeguarding patients from harm. For Medical Professional’s, they are often thought of as values to live by and essential for crafting fair healthcare workplace environments.