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Article
October 9, 1987

Altruism, Self-interest, and Medical Ethics

Author Affiliations

Joseph and Rose Kennedy Institute of Ethics Georgetown University Washington, DC

Joseph and Rose Kennedy Institute of Ethics Georgetown University Washington, DC

JAMA. 1987;258(14):1939-1940. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03400140101036
Abstract

Nothing more exposes a physician's true ethics than the way he or she balances his or her own interests against those of the patient. Whether the physician is refusing to care for patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) for fear of contagion (the subject Zuger and Miles1 discuss in this issue of JAMA) or withdrawing from emergency department service for fear of malpractice suits, striking for better pay or fees, or earning a gatekeeper's bonus by blocking access to medical care, the question raised is the same. Does medicine entail effacement of the physician's self-interests—even to the point of personal and financial risk? Is some degree of altruism a moral obligation, or is nonmaleficence the limit of the physician's mandatory beneficence? How far does physician advocacy go?2 What does the concept of physician as advocate mean?3

As Zuger and Miles' article points out, although the question

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