Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

Doing the right thing

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 20 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5288
  1. Daniel Sokol, barrister and medical ethicist
  1. 112 King’s Bench Walk, London, UK
  1. Sokol{at}

Doctors can do good not only with their stethoscopes, scalpels, and clinical skills but with acts of moral courage

There are times when health professionals endanger life and limb to care for their patients. Nearly 900 medical staff have contracted Ebola virus disease in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, with 512 deaths, since the start of the current outbreak.1

Army medical personnel have also risked all to treat injured soldiers on the battlefield, under the threat of snipers, ambushes, and roadside bombs. So too have the thousands of humanitarian health workers who have been victims of violence, or threats of violence, in conflict zones.

While physical courage is lauded by all, lesser known is the moral variant of courage. Moral courage is when you act on the conviction that something is morally right even though you believe that something of personal value may be lost. It need not be heroic in the grand, traditional sense. A doctor breaking bad news may show moral courage by avoiding the …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription