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Beneficence and Non-maleficence are two interrelated concepts which consist of bringing no harm to others. Although the two are interrelated, there is a big difference between the two. Beneficence refers to the act of helping others whereas non-maleficence refers to not doing any harm. Therefore, the main difference between the two is that beneficence asks that you help others while non-maleficence asks that you do no harm to others to begin with. When you combine both concepts, the main point is that you must act selflessly in a way that will help the other individual and you must not act on your own beliefs.
As mentioned before, beneficence refers to the actions that help others. In other words, these actions are done for the benefit of others. According to the UCSF school of medicine, “beneficence is an action that is done for the benefit of others. Beneficent actions can be taken to help prevent or remove harm or to simply improve the situations of others” (Pantilat, 2008). The UCSF school of medicine also provides clinical applications in which they mention how physicians are “expected to refrain from causing harm, but they also have an obligation to help their patients” (Pantilat, 2008). It certainly seems confusing considering the fact that sometimes in order to provide care, patients can experience harm. UCSF also mentions that there is a difference between obligatory and ideal beneficence. UCSF mentions that there is a common confusion between ideal beneficence and obligatory beneficence. According to the UCSF school of medicine, “Ideal beneficence compromises extreme acts of generosity or attempts to benefit others on all possible occasions” (Pantilat, 2008).
According to the UCSF, “physicians are not necessarily expected to live up to this broad definition of beneficence,” however they most certainly are required to promote the welfare of patients no matter what (Pantilat, 2008). Because of the knowledge that physicians possess, they are obligated to prevent and remove harm and “weigh and balance possible benefits against possible risk of an action” (Pantilat, 2008). Not only this but the UCSF expands on the definition of beneficence by saying this can also include “protecting and defending the rights of others, rescuing persons who are in danger, and helping individuals with disabilities” (Pantilat, 2008). The following are a few examples the UCSF provides in regard to beneficence: “resuscitating a drowning victim, providing vaccinations for the general population, or helping someone quit smoking” (Pantilat, 2008).
Non-maleficence as defined earlier basically states that you must do no harm no matter what and refrain from providing “ineffective treatment or acting with malice toward patients” (Pantilat, 2008). UCSF makes a point to say that this principle offers little useful guidance because many times therapies or treatment provided by physicians can also have serious risks or consequences (Pantilat, 2008)). According to the UCSF, “physicians should not provide ineffective treatments to patients as these offer risk with no possibility of benefit and thus have a change of harming patients” (Pantilat, 2008). The school of medicine continues to say that, “In addition, physicians must not do anything that would purposely harm patients without the action being balanced by proportional benefit” (Pantilat, 2008).
The reason UCSF says this is because they believe that many procedures and interventions can cause harm in relation to benefits and therefore, the physician must make sure to inform the patient of all risks prior to any procedures. And ultimately, the physician should not pressure the patient into having any procedure done and should solely allow the patient to decide based on the proper information provided to him or her. An example of non-maleficence is stopping any medication that is shown to be harmful or refusing to provide treatment to a patient which has not been proven to be effective in trials. Another example of non-maleficence is not encouraging someone to smoke when you know how harmful it can be.
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