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.
Disrespectful, derogatory, or prejudiced language or conduct, or prejudiced requests for accommodation of personal preferences on the part of either patients or physicians can undermine trust and compromise the integrity of the patient-physician relationship.