BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Ethics and Health



Ethics is defined as the systematic examination of the way humans treat and relate with each other as well as their surrounding natural environment… it is the study of the values and beliefs that guide people’s attitudes and behaviors. Irrespective of differences in social, cultural, economic or professional backgrounds, ethics is practiced by everyone on a daily basis.

Advancements in medical knowledge and technology come with significant moral challenges. Health ethics is the field of ethics that deals with health-related ethical and moral issues in health care, medicine and science. It involves discussions concerning choices of treatment and options of care that are faced by individuals, families and health care workers. It requires a critical evaluation of the programs, systems, and structures developed to improve the health of a population. Health care ethics is concerned with series of moral decisions- and most moral issues in healthcare are due to innovations and developments in reproductive and genetic knowledge and genetic technologies. Other areas of moral and ethical interest include:

  • Relationship between health care professionals and their patients
  • Biomedical and behavioral human subject research
  • Harvest and transplant of human organ
  • Abortion
  • Allocation of health care services; deciding between clinical care or health promotion
  • Making decisions about end-of-life care
  • Equity in distributing healthcare goods and services
  • Ethical conduct in health research
  • Implications of genetic cloning and similar technologies

Health ethics involves reflecting on ways to allocate limited resources as well as the best decisions regarding complex moral options that result from continuous health care advancement. It also entails a critical, political, and ethical analysis of the definition and health determinants. Public health ethics on the other hand, involves a systematic process to clarify, prioritize and justify possible outcomes of public health actions based on ethical principles, values and beliefs of stakeholders or based on scientific information. It seeks to understand and elucidate the principles and values that guide public health actions and provide the framework for making and justifying decisions. Since public health actions are mostly taken by governments and are directed at the population level, the guiding principles and values differ significantly from those of biological and clinical medicine (bioethics and medical ethics) which are more patient or individual-centered. As a field of practice, public health ethics involves the application of appropriate principles and values to public health decision making. Using an ethics framework, public health ethics inquiry carries out three core functions:

  • Identify and clarify ethical dilemma
  • Analyze and compare alternative courses of action and their consequences
  • Problem resolution by making a decision that best incorporates and balances the guiding principles and values.

One goal of public health ethics is to integrate the tools of ethical analysis into day-to-day operations. To achieve this, the basic principles of health care ethics are used, they’re highlighted below as guiding principles- Typically, for a medical practice to be considered “ethical”, it must respect these principles:

  • Non-maleficence- The principle of non-maleficence- do no harm, emphasizes that health care professionals must act in ways that do not harm patients, even at their request
  • Beneficence- This is the obligation to create or produce benefit for individual patients or clients. Every act by health workers must be performed with good intentions
  • Health maximization- In public health, the principal outcome is the health of the public and improvements to this are the key outcome used to measure success
  • Efficiency- There will always be more health need than available resources to deal with those needs. Hence, there is a moral duty to use scarce health resources efficiently.
  • Respect for autonomy- The principle of respect for autonomy means that patients’ rights should be respected; however, it is not at the detriment of maximizing the health of the broader public.
  • Justice- Justice and health equity demand equal opportunities which includes a fair distribution of health outcomes in societies
  • Proportionality- It demands that in weighing and balancing individual freedom against wider social goods, considerations will be made in a proportionate way.

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