Code of Medical Ethics Modernized for Contemporary Medicine


The central role of ethics in medicine was demonstrated as the nation’s physician leaders voted to adopt a modernized Code of Medical Ethics during the American Medical Association’s annual meeting, according to a press release from the AMA. The vote capped an eight-year project to modernize the Code’s ethical guidance for relevance, clarity and consistency.

“Contemporary medicine must remain moral medicine during the current rapid pace of change in health care delivery system, and just as it did during its founding, the AMA has responded to this challenge by again putting ethics on center stage,” said Steven J. Stack, MD, president, AMA. “The comprehensive update to the Code’s ethics guidance keeps pace with emerging demands physicians face with new technologies, changing patient expectations and shifting health care priorities.”

The Code of Medical Ethics was one of the two principal orders of business at the first AMA meeting in 1847.  Much in medicine has changed in 169 years, but this founding document – the first uniform code of ethics of its kind – still is the basis of an explicit social contract between physicians and their patients. It is regularly cited as the medical profession’s authoritative voice in legal opinions and in scholarly journals.

Guided by an open and collaborative process that incorporated substantial invited feedback from the medical community, the modernization project accomplished three primary objectives:

  1. To improve relevance, the Code has language that applies to contemporary medical practice.
  2. To improve clarity, the Code has an improved structure and formatting to ensure that foundational ethical principles and specific physician responsibilities are easy to find, read and apply.
  3. To improve consistency, the Code has harmonized guidance that consolidates related issues into a single, comprehensive statement.

“The modernization project ensures that the Code of Medical Ethics will remain a useful and effective resource that physicians can continue to rely on, while remaining faithful to the virtues of fidelity, humanity, loyalty, tenderness, confidentiality and integrity enshrined in the original Code,” said Stack.


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