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

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


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).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)692-695
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2007


  • Ethics
  • Professionalism
  • Respect for autonomy
  • Respect for persons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine

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