The ever-increasing power of modern medicine and the complex, sociological settings in which it is practiced raise new ethical questions concerning what is just, what is good, and what is right in the behavior of doctors and patients, of individuals and of society.
The tremendous advances in medical technology, the high costs of health care, the scarcity of resources, the rise in public expectations and demands and the shift in values require intensive consideration of the future of the health system and reconsideration of certain old ethical principles, or rather, of their applicability to novel situations.
Beyond political issues, it is necessary to understand the principles that call for decisions involving medicine and what guides the way these decisions are made today. It is the responsibility of each of us to assume that there are contradictions and conflicts between these principles.
A person’s basic rights are established on recognition of his human status, the inviolability of his life and the fact that he was born, and will always be, free. Respect for the values and wishes of the individual is a duty which becomes even stronger if the individual becomes vulnerable. Since the autonomy and responsibility of every person, including those who need health care, are accepted as important values, reaching or participating in decisions concerning one’s own body or health must be universally recognized as a right.
The ethical problems arising from the requirement of patients’ informed consent are so diverse that it seems fit and proper to devote the first of a series of manuals for training in ethics to this subject and to familiarize students of medicine with cases which demand ethical, as well as medical or surgical decisions after the initial diagnoses of patients’ ailments and long before the students themselves assume personal responsibility for the practice of medicine. It is intended that “Informed Consent” shall be the first of a series of companion text books for training in ethics. Each of them will deal with ethical problems which face the doctor in those different spheres of medicine in which the experts who have agreed to edit the books specialize.
Finally, it is my pleasure as well as obligation to acknowledge the debt of gratitude which I owe to the many supporters of the UNESCO Chair whose names and functions are recorded at the beginning of this work. The diversity of countries where they engage in their professional activities and the expertise which distinguishes their contributions to the manual have most definitely added a highly
international flavor and hopefully a worldwide appeal to its contents.
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