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Medical Ethics

How Selected Aspects of Medical Ethics Affect the Patient

The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) has published a booklet on medical ethics that describes the Code of Good Practice, which medical professionals, registered with the HPCSA should adhere to and support. We briefly discuss some of the topics covered as relevant to medical ethics in South Africa.

Core Ethical Values

Medical ethics relates to the conduct of health professionals. Medical practitioners should, accordingly, respect patients as people and recognise their right to be treated with dignity and to be respected as persons with intrinsic value. Healthcare professionals, who value medical ethics, should thus not cause harm to patients and the interests of their patients. As such, they are to act in the best interest of their patients and recognise their patients’ human rights.

Part of the commitment to follow the guidelines regarding medical ethics means that the practitioners should recognise and respect the rights of patients to make informed decisions regarding treatment.

Truthfulness is another core value of medical ethics. Practitioners should be truthful to their patients to ensure that their patients can make informed decisions about their health and treatment. The healthcare workers should treat patient information as confidential. It goes further than not disclosing information about patients to friends, family or third parties not involved in the care of the patients. It also pertains to keeping of records in a safe and secure way to eliminate the risk of patient information being leaked.

When it comes to medical ethics, healthcare workers should be sensitive to the individual needs of patients and recognise the right of patients to have different personal, cultural or religious beliefs and convictions. It thus implies impartial and fair treatment of all groups and individuals. Healthcare workers should be committed to self-improvement, including improvement in their knowledge and skills within their field of medical practice.

What Does the Well-Being of the Patient Mean?

In relation to medical ethics, it implies that the healthcare workers show respect and concern for the well-being of patients as part of their professional duty. They should thus respect the right to privacy, dignity and informed decision making of their patients. They must avoid abuse of their power position and strive to be accessible to their patients within the limits of their practice when on duty. The practitioners should be mindful that their own belief systems do not interfere with their professional duty of care.

The healthcare professionals should not delay in providing medical treatment because of their own prejudice. Part of their duties is to act in a timely manner in the protection of patients from risk if they believe that they or their colleagues are hindered, impaired or not qualified to provide diagnosis or treatment for the particular conditions.

Where they do not have the competency to treat a patient according to a reasonable standard of care they should refer the patient to a specialist or practitioner that is able to do so or to an institution that can provide the level of care needed.

The above only touches on selected aspects of medical ethics. For more information about such, call Adele van der Walt Incorporated if you believe that the unethical conduct of a healthcare worker has caused you to suffer physical and emotional harm, and financial damage.


Information in this article is not intended as legal advice and is only for informational purposes. Please seek legal guidance from Adele van der Walt before relying on this information to make any legal decisions.

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