The role of kindness in medical ethics: balancing virtue and ethical principles



The practice of medicine relies on a profound connection with people’s bodies, their personal vulnerabilities and overall wellbeing. This intimacy must be subjected to legal as well as ethical scrutiny, restrictions and guidance to impress upon doctors and other healthcare practitioners their duty to behave competently and without reproach. Respecting patients as persons with intrinsic worth while protecting their best interests are delicately intertwined to inform our medical practice. Above all, the South African Constitution plays a principled role in overseeing these morals, with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) mandated to not only set the ethical standard but also to maintain it. The HPCSA’s Booklet 1 (December 2021) underscores compassion as a core ethical value for good practice, alongside truthfulness, integrity, patient autonomy, and justice.1 Compassion, empathy, and kindness, the psycho-social attributes, are at the heart of medical consultations, embodying high moral standards befitting the trusted position of doctors in society. This article explores the integration of kindness within the ethical framework of medicine.

Author Biographies

JA Ker, University of Pretoria

Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

K Outhoff, University of Pretoria

Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa