Since antique times, doctors have been bound by strict ethical principles, which guide medical practice and establish a set of values. Despite the tremendous progress the medical science has made over the centuries, moral guidelines for medical personnel remain essentially the same. The core principles of medical ethics and reasons of such stability should be observed.
Medical ethics is based on four core ideas: beneficence, autonomy, non-maleficence and justice. The idea of beneficence lies in ensuring the improvement of patient's health in the best way possible. Autonomy stands for patients' right to make decisions regarding their treatment and those decisions must be respected. Non-maleficence states that a doctor should abstain from harming patients, however, in some occasions even the best treatment may worsen a patient's condition. Justice represents fairness towards patients and equal allocation of limited medical resources.
Modern medicine deals with ethically controversial cases on a daily basis. Doctors' moral principles are challenged by many disputable issues, for example, justification of euthanasia or acceptability of such procedures as assisted suicide or abortion. As an example, if a terminal patient asks a doctor to stop the treatment and discharge him or her, the doctor faces an ethical dilemma regardless of the decision. On the one hand, a patient's wish must be respected and, on the other hand, a doctor must not harm the patient and should use every possibility to improve patient's health. Unavoidable medical mistakes may be regarded as a violation of medical ethics, since they contradict the principle of non-maleficence. The development of medical science is also characterized by many controversial issues, such as tests on animals or use of stem cells for research and treatment.
The influence of ethics in modern medicine has undoubtedly grown as compared to previous centuries and even decades. However, the four main principles of doctors' ethical behavior remain unchanged and serve to ensure fairness, respect, confidentiality and the best possible treatment for patients.