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Medical ethics of care approach

Last edited: February 25, 2011

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  • Codes of medical ethics are built on internationally accepted principles. It is a fundamental duty of all health workers that they use their skills in an ethical manner and observe the laws of the community. Health service provision and the related policy framework must be based on the same ethical principles. Countries need to be mindful of these principles when considering their legal frameworks for services and modes of operation.



Autonomy involves right of victim/survivors to make decisions on their own behalf or, in the case of children, the right of the individual acting in their interests (parent or guardian). Respecting the principle of autonomy, requires that health care professionals make themselves aware of the needs and wishes of patients with respect to both their treatment and their interactions with police, the legal system or other referrals. Within the health services all steps taken should be based on informed consent i.e. the provision of information about the procedure to be performed and medication to be given and any side-effects.



Beneficence is the duty or obligation to act in the best interests of the victim/survivor. The principle of beneficence requires that staff act with sensitivity and compassion. Fundamentally, staff actions need to convey that they believe the victim/survivor and that he or she is not to blame for what occurred.



Non-malfeasance is the duty or obligation to avoid doing harm to a survivor.


Justice or fairness

Justice/fairness is doing and giving what is rightfully due to the survivor according to international and national health and human rights standards and laws. In health services for sexual violence survivors, the lower social status of women has often been reflected in a culture of victim-blaming, accusatory modes of questioning and lesser priority given to providing post-sexual assault. These practices are not ethical. It is essential that health care professionals are supportive and non-judgmental when providing care to victim/survivors.

Excerpted/Adapted from Jewkes, R., 2006. Paper for Policy Guidance: Strengthening the Health sector Response to Sexual Violence (Unpublished).


Additional Resource:

See the International Code of Medical Ethics and the World Medical Association site.