Medical Beneficence, Nonmaleficence, and Patientsí Well-Being


Lynn A. Jansen


This article critically analyzes the principle of beneficence and the principle of nonmaleficence in clinical medical ethics. It resists some recent skepticism about the principle of nonmaleficence, and then seeks to explain its role in medicine. The article proposes that the two principles are informed by different accounts of what is in the patientís best interests. The principle of beneficence is tied to the patientís best overall interests, whereas the principle of nonmaleficence is tied to the patientís best medical interests only. The article argues that the principle of nonmaleficence takes priority over the principle of beneficence in that it filters the treatment options that are appropriately subject to the principle of beneficence. Understanding how both principles can play an important role in medical practice, and how they relate when they come into conflict, can help clinicians to avoid certain mistakes in thinking about their duties to their patients.      


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