Beneficence means that all medical practitioners have a moral duty to promote the course of action that they believe is in the best interests of the patient. Often, it’s simplified to mean that practitioners must do good for their patients – but thinking of it in such a simplistic way can be problematic.
It’s better to think of beneficence as the process of ranking the available options for the patient from best to worst, taking into consideration the following aspects:
You will notice that several considerations are concerned with the patient’s expectations or circumstances. This is also known as holistic or patient-centric care.
It is important to bear the patient’s expectations in mind when ranking treatments because when we refer to doing “good” we are not simply referring to what is medically good for the patient, but also what is acceptable to the human being we are treating.
Beneficence is important because it ensures that healthcare professionals consider individual circumstances and remember that what is good for one patient may not necessarily be great for another.
You may be given an ethical scenario to consider during your interview. For example:
An eight-year-old child has been admitted to hospital with a significant open fracture to their left leg. The limb is deformed with significant bleeding and the patient is extremely distressed. The parents are demanding immediate action be taken.
There are a number of options for treatment here, but let’s take an extreme one – amputation.
If the bleeding is life-threatening, the limb sufficiently injured and the risk of infection extremely high, then amputation could be a treatment option. It would be “good” for the patient in as much as the injury would be resolved and the threat to life from bleeding or infection somewhat reduced.
But let’s consider the implications of amputation. The treatment would result in a life-changing injury and the risks of infection or massive bleeding aren’t proportionate. The limitations to their physical movement also carry other future risks that could inadvertently result in further physical and mental health issues.
Most important of all, there are other interventions available to us that have better outcomes attached. Using blood products to manage the bleeding, reducing the fracture if possible and orthopaedic surgery if necessary will have better outcomes for this patient. That course of action is “more good” than amputation.
It’s a rather severe example but also helps demonstrate an important point. Beneficence asks us to promote a course of action, but in practice, we also need to de-promote certain courses of action if there are better options available.
When you’re talking about ethical issues, you need to consider beneficence. You should think about the following things:
Some questions you could be asked at an interview include:
You can find the answer to these questions – and more – in our ethics questions and answer guide.
Keep on top of the hot topics that you can apply the principle of beneficence, for example:
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