Key Ethics Term: Beneficence

“The term beneficence connotes acts of mercy, kindness, and charity. It is suggestive of altruism, love, humanity, and promoting the good of others. In ordinary language, the notion is broad, but it is understood even more broadly in ethical theory to include effectively all forms of action intended to benefit or promote the good of other persons. The language of a principle or rule of beneficence refers to a normative statement of a moral obligation to act for the others’ benefit, helping them to further their important and legitimate interests, often by preventing or removing possible harms. Many dimensions of applied ethics appear to incorporate such appeals to obligatory beneficence, even if only implicitly. For example, when apparel manufacturers are criticized for not having good labor practices in factories, the ultimate goal of the criticisms is usually to obtain better working conditions, wages, and benefits for workers.” (

When thinking about beneficence as a principle in case analysis we are typically considering the consequences, specifically how to bring about the most good and the least harm. One should consider all perspectives (e.g. patient, family, clinicians, community, etc.), and all forms of harms and benefits (e.g. physical, spiritual, social, etc.), and as questions like: Which course of action is likely to produce the greatest benefit (e.g. quantity or quality of life) over harm (e.g. bio-psycho-social pain and suffering) for the patient?  For everyone involved?