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May 11, 1970

Medical Ethics

Author Affiliations

From the Scientific Publications Division, American Medical Association, Chicago.

JAMA. 1970;212(6):1042-1044. doi:10.1001/jama.1970.03170190058008

Constantly we are called upon to choose between two or more courses of conduct. Some decisions we make simply from habit, others from desire or impulse or perhaps whim, still others from motives of prudence. However, some choices involve the quite special concepts that we call right and wrong, and decisions of this type, the situations that give rise to them, and the principles on which the choice is made, comprise the realm of ethics.

We find great difficulty if we try to define right and wrong. To be sure, for some people the boundary is so sharp that it leaves no room for doubt, but for most of us the borders are fuzzy. The more we reflect the more uncertain we get, and any general rules seem to be shadowy and confused.

The profession of medicine, dealing with health and disease, life and death, has its special ethical problems.