What are the four basic principles of ethics in medical research: autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice? How do these principles interrelate in the research and practice of medical ethics? 

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In bioethics, four principles of health care ethics guide medical staff in evaluating ethical parameters of a given procedure. Advances in medical science, such as stem cell and genetics research, have introduced complicated moral considerations into individual and societal applications of certain treatments that extend beyond a simple evaluation of...

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In bioethics, four principles of health care ethics guide medical staff in evaluating ethical parameters of a given procedure. Advances in medical science, such as stem cell and genetics research, have introduced complicated moral considerations into individual and societal applications of certain treatments that extend beyond a simple evaluation of patient health. Therefore, the principles of autonomy, justice, beneficence and non-maleficence constitute moral guidelines for ethical decision making in medical practice. 

Autonomy: Acknowledges that a patient has the right to make decisions about healthcare procedures using personal, independent thoughts and actions. In other words, a patient's decision-making must be respected without coercion.  

Justice: Posits that patients must be treated equitably and the burdens and benefits of treatments (both extant and experimental) should be fairly distributed. To have a 'just' medical practice, health care providers should take into consideration availability/scarcity of resources, competing needs of providers and patients, and mandates of existing legislation. 

Beneficence: Requires that medical treatment provides benefits for the patient  and necessitates that health care providers stay current with the latest skills, training and knowledge that contribute the best possible care for all patients. 

Nonmaleficence: In medical ethics, the primary objective is to do "no harm". Thus, nonmaleficence necessitates that medical personnel do not inflict deliberate harm on patients. 

In the context of ethical research, the four principles are applied collectively rather than in isolated consideration. In fact, when evaluating ethical concerns in a given case, the four principles can be used as checks and balances or are weighed against each other in order to arrive at an acceptable solution. For example, conflict often arises between autonomy and beneficence if a patient refuses a potentially life-saving treatment, such as a blood transfusion, because of religious or cultural views. In this case, if the patient is mentally stable, autonomy usually prevails over beneficence. Thus, most ethical research involves an interrelation of the four principles to varying degrees.

 

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