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Clinical ethics information: Introduction

This guide provides information on locating guidelines, policies and other resources relating to clinical ethics.

No easy answers

This video, No Easy Answers: the Berman Institute of Bioethics, will give you an understanding of ethical debates and the consequences of decision-making.

Bioethics news


About ethics

Images - Medicine, Dentistry

Ethical issues involve a conflict of interest and are usually those areas that are seen as being either controversial or “untouchable”. Some examples of areas in which ethical issues may develop in a clinical setting are :

  • the care of people suffering from mental or chronic illnesses
  • abortions
  • decisions involving life-sustaining treatments
  • consent
  • decisions that are made on behalf of a patient who is either unable to communicate or make decisions for themselves

The Hippocratic Oath was an early indication of the important relationship between the practices of ethics and medicine. In fact, ethical codes of conduct are now commonplace and considered essential tools for the health profession. Some such codes that are relevant to the Australian clinical setting are :

Australian Medical Association Code of Ethics - 2004. Editorially Revised 2006

Australian Medical Association (AMA) Policies on Ethics and Professionalism

Australian Medical Students Association (AMSA) Code of Ethics

As a student, it is important that you consider the ethical implications behind decisions and practices. Throughout your career, you will be making decisions that can potentially challenge your own or your patient's moral or religious beliefs.

The principles of medical ethics

Autonomy: The principle of autonomy recognizes the rights of individuals to self determination.

Beneficence: The term beneficence refers to actions that promote the wellbeing of others.

Non-maleficence: The idea that it should be the main or primary consideration that it is more important not to harm your patient, than to do them good.

Justice: The ethical principle that persons who have similar circumstances and conditions should be treated alike.

Further reading on these themes is available at the links:  


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Florence Nightingale Public Domain
Louis Pasteur Public Domain
Skeleton Foot Image by Mivervaa (GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2)
Barber-Dentist, 16th century, Portugal Public Domain
Hippocrate Public Domain
Bore Track of Strzelecki Desert, South Australia Photograph by Kdliss (GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2)