The AMA was founded in part to establish the first national code of medical ethics. Today the Code is widely recognized as authoritative ethics guidance for physicians through its Principles of Medical Ethics interpreted in Opinions of AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs that address the evolving challenges of contemporary practice.
At the heart of medicine lie relationships founded in a “covenant of trust” between patient and physician in which physicians commit themselves to responding to the needs and promoting the welfare of patients.
Physicians have an ethical obligation to provide care in cases of medical emergency; Physicians must also uphold ethical responsibilities not to discriminate against prospective patients on the basis of personal or social characteristics that are not clinically relevant; Physicians are nevertheless not ethically required to accept all prospective patients.
Preserving opportunity for physicians to act (or to refrain from acting) in accordance with the dictates of conscience is important for preserving the integrity of the medical profession as well as the integrity of the individual physician; Physicians’ freedom to act according to conscience is not unlimited; They are expected to provide care in emergencies, honor patients’ informed decisions to refuse life-sustaining treatment, respect basic civil liberties and not discriminate against patients on the basis of arbitrary characteristics.
Physicians enjoy the right to advocate for change in law and policy, in the public arena, and within their institutions; Physicians have an ethical responsibility to seek change when they believe the requirements of law or policy are contrary to the best interests of patients. However, they have a responsibility to do so in ways that are not disruptive to patient care.