Doctors are beholden to a code of ethics when treating patients. However, not all ethical decisions have easy answers. In many cases, doctors may be faced with a complex set of circumstances that can be difficult to navigate.

When ethics problems are complex, you must take certain values into account to make a decision that is in the best interest of your patients. Here are four key values doctors should use when it comes to common ethics issues.

  1. Beneficence

As a doctor, you are obligated to do what is best for the patient you are taking care of. This is the concept of beneficence, which is defined as being charitable and kind when affording treatment. Beneficence is not always straightforward in practice. For example, if you are caring for a terminally ill patient, you must weigh the benefit of new treatments against the comfort and well being of the person.

  1. Nonmalfeasance

Conversely, nonmalfeasance ensures doctors do not cause harm to their patients during the course of treatment. For instance, if you receive a financial incentive from a pharmaceutical company, and this incentive causes you to recommend certain medications to patients despite their need, you would be in direct violation of the nonmalfeasance principle.

  1. Autonomy

While you are the medical authority in your office, your patient must also have a say in treatments and care. You can recommend therapies based on your professional opinion and background, but you cannot insist that a patient pursues these treatments. This can be quite difficult to address when a patient makes a choice that goes against his or her best interests, but you can also enlist the help of other specialists and doctors to make an impression on the person in your care.

  1. Justice

You are not permitted to pick and choose your patients. Instead, doctors must be mindful of providing their services to the community equally, without regard for a person’s race, religion, the nation of origin, sex, or other characteristics. A person’s financial status also cannot be used as a deciding factor when providing care. As an example, if a patient arrives at your emergency room desperately in need of treatment and is without health insurance, you are not permitted to turn that patient away.