Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 287-300

First online:

Physicians' values and physician-value neutrality

  • John F. PeppinAffiliated withThe Marshfield Clinic of St. Joseph's Hospital, Department of Internal Medicine

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


For years articles have decried the lack of empathy in physicians' relationships with patients. In addition to being empathetic, physicians are called upon to assume the posture of “value neutrality,” i.e., not imposing one's values when dealing with patients. Empathy is clearly an expression of deeply held values; even the language used to define it is value-laden. Physicians are consistently called upon to exhibit traits which are expressions of their underlying values. However, if proponents of value-neutrality are to be taken literally one must not impose any of one's values on one's patients. But then one wonders how empathy could ever be expressed; further, it is hard to imagine what a truly “value neutral” physician would be like. It is time we recognize that any relationship between two persons requires the expression of values from both parties. These values help shape that relationship and define its further history. Physicians are not excluded from this process just because they consider themselves “professionals.” Divulging personal values to patients is both more honest and more in keeping with the concepts of justice, beneficence, non maleficence, and autonomy than to feign value-neutrality. A presentation of some type statement of values is timely and would give patients an idea of where a physician stands on a myriad of issues. Rather than being value-neutral, value “non-neutrality” seems a more right and reasonable posture for physicians to assume.