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Bioethics

Resources for education and research on bioethics

Major & Historical Codes


Charaka Samhita - one of the main texts of Ayurveda ("science of life") - For a discussion see: Menon, I.A., and Haberman, H.F. 1970 "The Medical Students' Oath of Ancient India." Medical History 14, no.3: 295-299

Hippocratic Oath - Classical and modern versions (full text) - Dalhousie's version

Oath of Maimonides and the Daily Prayer of a Physician (full text)


Thomas Percival. Medical Ethics. (1803) (DALWKK W 50 P429 1803F)
The English physician, Thomas Percival (1740-1804) in 1803 published his Medical Ethics; or, a Code of Institutes and Precepts Adapted to the Professional Conduct of Physicians and Surgeons. This code, following in the tradition of the Hippocratic Oath was to influence the development of later codes of medical ethics. Indeed, the American Medical Association (AMA) adapted and adopted Percival's code for use by American physicians in 1847. The Percivalian code asserted the moral authority and independence of physicians in service to others, affirmed the profession's responsibility to care for the sick, and emphasized individual honor.

American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Ethics (1847) (full text - pdf)
The AMA Code of Ethics was adapted from the ethical code of conduct published in 1794 by Thomas Percival. This was the first code to be adopted by a national professional organization. The current AMA code of ethics (2001) has nine articles which is two more than the previous version (1980). These additions stress the responsibility the doctor has to the patient and the support of universal access to medical care. Provisions are also added to the revised Oath regarding a commitment to medical education and a responsibility for the betterment of public health. Other features of the Code are:

  • dedication, competence, compassion and respect
  • honesty and duty to report fraud or deception
  • respect for the law
  • respect for the rights of patients and colleagues
  • respect for privacy and patient confidentiality
  • continued education, study, and consultation with other professionals
  • freedom of association and environment in the practice of the Art
  • responsibility to make efforts to improve the community

 

See a history of AMA Ethics

 

 

Nuremberg Code (1947) (full text)
The product of international law, this code deals with medical research on human subjects and arose out of the post-WWII trial of Nazi doctors for crimes against humanity committed in the name of research. The Nuremberg Code sets out 10 principles outlining the ethics of medical research and ensuring the rights of human subjects::

  • informed, voluntary consent
  • research must be purposeful and necessary for the benefit of society
  • research must be based on animal studies or other rational justification
  • avoidance and protection from injury, and unnecessary physical and mental suffering
  • risks to the subject shall not be greater than the humanitarian importance of the problem
  • investigators must be scientifically qualified
  • subject may terminate the experiment at any time

 

Declaration of Geneva (1948 - rev. 2002) (full text)
This oath for physicians was adopted by the newly established (1948) World Medical Association largely in response the atrocities committed in the name of research in WWII Nazi concentration camps. It was also meant to update the Hippocratic Oath to make it more applicable to the modern era.

 

World Medical Association International Code of Medical Ethics (1949)(full text)
This was an attempt to develop international standards of medical ethics and sought to summarize the most important principles of medical ethics.

 

Declaration of Helsinki (Adopted 1964; latest amendment 2013)(full text)
This document has been revised several times since its publication in 1964 as a response to unethical medical experiments of the Nazis during WWII. The latest revision of the declaration (2000) states that "the well-being of the human subject should take precedence over the interest of science and society." Other of the Helsinki principles are that the doctor should only act in the patients best interest and that the health of the patient is the first concern. Many of the principles are incorporated in national research regulations.

The revised declaration also discusses the use of placebo, recommends that ethics committees have the obligation to monitor ongoing trials, and requires that researchers disclose to subjects details of funding and possible conflicts of interest. Finally, there is a recommendation that publishers decline studies not carried out in accordance with the declaration.


In addition to professional associations and governmental bodies, other organizations such as the Catholic Church have issued codes concerning matters of human health.

Religious Directives for Catholic Health Facilities (5th ed. 2009) (full text)
This document is written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and is considered binding on not only Catholics but also non-Catholics who are associated with Catholic health facilities.

Instruction on Respect for Human Life (1987) (full text)
The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes known its stance concerning "biomedical techniques which make it possible to intervene in the initial phase of the life of a human being and in the very processes of procreation and their conformity with the principles of Catholic morality".

Patient's Bill of Rights (1973, rev. 1992) (full text)
The Patient's Bill of Rights was first adopted by the American Hospital Association with the expectation that hospitals and health care institutions would support these rights in the interest of delivering effective patient care. It was also written partly as a response to the growing consumer health movement.