Principles of Biomedical Ethics

Biomedical ethics and principles of medical ethics are veryessential in medical practice. They guide a medical professional inethical dilemmas as well as in his or her normal duties towardstaking the right decisions. Biomedical ethics are based on bothethical principles and ethical theories. Ethical theories areapplicable to the general field of ethics and were developed by greatthinkers in history. Some of the most common ethical theories are theutilitarian ethics theory and the Kantian ethical theories. However,more important are the principles of biomedical ethics which are themain guides to the ethics of health care profession. Ethical theoriesform the foundation of an ethical analysis. They are also viewpointswhich act as guides towards making decisions in an ethical dilemma.Each of the ethical theory has a different point of view which itseeks to emphasizes, which could be the outcome of the action or theduties and responsibility, in determining an ethical action.Nonetheless, the application of ethical theories in nursing shouldhave a common goal. These common goals are the principles of medicalethics that the application of each theory must seek to achieve. Thefour basic principles of biomedical ethics are “autonomy,beneficence, nonmaleficence and justice (Beaucham &amp Childress,2013).

In one of the cases, a group of people have been infected with aninfectious disease. To contain the outbreak, the authorities havemade a decision to quarantine and isolate the infected individuals toreduce the likelihood of the infection spreading. The non infectedpeople are not allowed to return to their houses where there areinfected people. However, the hotels rooms in the city are filled.The only option available is housing the non-infected individualstogether in the available houses. Each house will be required tohouse twenty individuals if all people will be housed. This willsignificantly affect the sanitation and hygiene in the house but maysave the lives of the twenty people. However, it is important to notethat the houses are not owned by the government but ratherindividuals (Beaucham &amp Childress, 2013). The ethical dilemma iswhether these individuals are obliged to accommodate these people. Dohealth workers have the authority to accommodate people in a privatehouse? Is the consent of the owner and the client necessary?

All medical workers, including nurses, are expected to aim atachieving the principles of biomedical ethics. Therefore, all theprinciples of biomedical ethics need to be considered in the case.Autonomy means that the patient or the family of the patient has theunlimited rights over their bodies. They have the final say on whathappens to their bodies. Therefore, a competent or a well informedclient has the right to accept or reject a particular line oftreatment proposed by a medical practitioner. For example, aphysician may recommend a surgery procedure, but the patient has theright to reject the proposal. The principle is based on theassumption that people are rational and have the ability to makedecisions regarding their bodies freely. Even when the decisions arenot in the best interest of the patient, it must be respected. Theprinciple of beneficence requires medical workers to always worktowards improving the health status of their clients. It alsorequires medical professionals to do ‘good’ in every situation,for the benefit of the client and the society (Beaucham &ampChildress, 2013). However, when the ‘good’ to one client is not‘good’ to another patient, the case should be consideredindividually while taking into account other values and principles inconflict. The nonmaleficence principle, otherwise known as ‘firstdo no harm’ principle is the foundation of biomedical ethics. Inall situations, medical professionals are expected to take actionsthat does not cause harm to their client. This means that they shouldbe mindful of the double effects where their actions or inactions ingood faith, with a good intention may result into unintentional badeffect. The principle of justice requires medical workers to be fairand just in executing their duties. This includes the allocation ofscarce as well as time to the clients (Beaucham &amp Childress,2013).

Together with the principles of medical ethics, utilitarianism canbe applied to solve the ethical dilemma. According to theutilitarianism ethical theorists, an action is considered to beethical and justifiable is it results into the greatest happiness forthe masses. Thus, utilitarianism is generally referred to aconsequentialism ethical theory. Utilitarianism, although a generalethical theory, has been applied in biomedical to solve ethicaldilemmas. It holds that the moral rightness is dependent on theoutcome of the action or inaction. That is, the action can resultinto a bad outcome or a good outcome. Utilitarianism attaches“nonmoral intrinsic value” to the outcome of an action. Thisrefers to the “wellbeing, state of happiness, state of pleasure”.This ethical theory is therefore based in the ability to predict ordetermine the consequence of the action. To a utilitarian, the actionthat results into greater happiness to majority of the people isethical. On the other hand, actions or inaction that minimizeshappiness are considered are unethical. In the context of the healthcare, utilitarianism is more concerned with health issues affectingthe society rather than individuals. This includes ethical dilemmasthat require medicals workers to act on the interest of the society,for example, allocation of resources. For example, an ethical dilemmamay arise on whether a limited amount of funds should finance alinear accelerator machine for the cancer center or fund a long termoutreach program targeting pregnant mothers in the society.Utilitarianism ethics will advocate for the program that results into“most good” or greatest happiness (Beaucham &amp Childress,2013).

Referring to the case, epidemic outbreaks has adverse effects on asociety. They bring about large scale death and miserly. If an actioncan be taken to prevent the suffering of the people, utilitarianismdictates that the actions are ethical. Therefore, quarantine andisolation to reduce the cases of further infections would be the bestactions to take. While some people, mainly the owners may not behappy with the quarantine, it will result into greater happiness inthe long run. Additionally, quarantine will be ethical according tothe principles of beneficence and bonmaleficence which requiresmedical workers to act for the good of their client and minimizeharm. Through quarantine, the medical officers will be doing good andpreventing harm to their health client. However, this action may goagainst the principle of autonomy. This is because the clients may beheld away from their homes against their will (Frederick et al,2010).


Beaucham, T. L. &amp Childress, J. F. (2013). Principles ofbiomedical ethics. New York : Oxford University Press.

Frederick, A. P. Robert, W. &amp Lois, L. (2010). Medical ethicsand humanities, Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.