Virtue Theory & Virtues in Medical Practice and Research

Virtue Theory & Virtues in Medical Practice and Research

Virtue theory is a concept in ethics that explains the regulations, penalties, acts, and locations that define the focus through which an individual acts. The theory draws the focus people generate towards activities away from the correctness of an intention, adherence to rules, as well as establishing whether the consequences produces negative or positive effects (Bruce, 2010). The theory emphasizes the need to focus on what defines ethical behavior. Virtue ethics explains the morality of an ethical character instead of the correctness of the actions by the character. Medical practice and research is no exception, as it has its own dilemmas. Conflicting principles and practices in medical practice and research generate an ethical dilemma of determining the nature of various consequences. Virtues in medical practice and research focus on establishing and explaining the relationship between medical practitioners and their patients. This involves treatment of patients, their medical information, and medical related research (Bruce, 2010). The nature of medical practice requires a more realistic approach into ethical behavior, as there is need to appreciate the value of life, autonomy, and beneficence.


Four principles that guide medical practice and research are autonomy, justice, non-malfeasance, and beneficence. Confidentiality is both a legal and ethical issue in the medical profession. Patients have the right to have their medical information kept confidential by practitioners. Revealing a patient’s information can lead to adverse effects on the patient’s autonomy and welfare in the community (Bruce, 2010). For example in 2002, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) took effect in the United States of America. The provisions of this act affect billing, health records, patient confidentiality and electronic broadcast of data (Swanton, 2005). The act requires organizations to enlighten patients regarding their rights. Under the medical privacy terms, patients should give written authority to allow sharing of their information with third parties. The regulations give full custody of medical records to patients with the exception of psychiatric records. Health care organizations should have a policy on how to handle patient requests and have a system to alert others on changes in medical records.

Under medical ethics, practitioners are not supposed to treat patients without their consent. According to the Journal of Surgery, practitioners encounter conflicts between law and ethics when treating adolescents (Swanton, 2005). For example, a professional might assume that it is morally right and legally acceptable to inform parents about the health status of their child. However, that is contradicts law. The Patient Self Determination Act gives patients right to make decisions regarding their health care. As such, a patient can decline surgery or medical treatment at will. Self-determination is a legal right that gives patients authority to direct treatment and health care, thus the ethical obligation of medical practitioners and researchers to respect this right. However, it conflicts with nursing ethics because a patient might decline treatment as a way of committing suicide. On the other hand, a patient might be endangering lives of other people by declining treatment (Swanton, 2005). For example, if a patient declines treatment for a communicable disease he risks infecting other people he/she might meet.


Medicine is more than a science, as it also has an aspect of art. This is primarily because medicine deals with human life and the crucial role that ethical behavior holds in its practice and research. Medicine as an art entails achieving success and maintaining standards of morality covering both the intrinsic and extrinsic elements of the practice. In the nursing profession, conflicts between ethics and law cause challenges that are difficult to solve. It is the duty of nurses to prevent, control, and cure diseases. Therefore, disclosing information to partners of infected individuals is one way of preventing infection of healthy people by communicable diseases.

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