Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 692–695 | Cite as

What Does ‘Respect’ Mean? Exploring the Moral Obligation of Health Professionals to Respect Patients

  • Mary Catherine Beach
  • Patrick S. Duggan
  • Christine K. Cassel
  • Gail Geller

Respect is frequently invoked as an integral aspect of ethics and professionalism in medicine, yet it is often unclear what respect means in this setting. While we recognize that there are many reasonable ways to think about and use the term ‘respect’, in this paper, we develop a conception of respect that imposes a distinct moral duty on physicians. We are concerned mainly with the idea of respect for persons, or more specifically, respect for patients as persons. We develop an account of respect as recognition of the unconditional value of patients as persons. Such respect involves respecting the autonomy of patients, but we challenge the idea that respect for autonomy is a complete or self-sufficient expression of respect for persons. Furthermore, we suggest that the type of respect that physicians owe to patients is independent of a patient’s personal characteristics, and therefore, ought to be accorded equally to all. Finally, the respect that we promote has both a cognitive dimension (believing that patients have value) and a behavioral dimension (acting in accordance with this belief).

Key words

ethics respect for persons respect for autonomy professionalism 



Dr. Beach is a recipient of a K-08 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and a Robert Wood Johnson Generalist Physician Scholar.

Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest

None of the authors has any financial conflict of interest to report.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Catherine Beach
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Patrick S. Duggan
    • 1
  • Christine K. Cassel
    • 4
  • Gail Geller
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Berman Institute of BioethicsJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Department of MedicineJohns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Department of Health, Behavior and SocietyJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.American Board of Internal MedicinePhiladelphiaUSA

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