Physicians may experience ethical distress when they are caught in difficult clinical situations that demand ethical decision making, particularly when their preferred action may contravene the expectations of patients and established authorities. When principled and competent doctors succumb to patient wishes or establishment guidelines and participate in actions they perceive to be ethically inappropriate, or agree to refrain from interventions they believe to be in the best interests of patients, individual professional integrity may be diminished, and ethical reliability is potentially compromised. In a climate of ever-proliferating ethical quandaries, it is essential for the medical community, health institutions, and governing bodies to pursue a judicious tension between the indispensable regulation of physicians necessary to maintain professional standards and preserve public safety, and the support for “freedom of conscience” that principled physicians require to practise medicine in keeping with their personal ethical orientation.
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Conflicting interests: none.
Dr Stephen John Genuis is an associate professor at the University of Alberta.
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