Medical ethics is a branch of ethics which pertains to medical practice. It is sometimes viewed as part of the larger field of bioethics, which concerns ethics in the sciences, and is closely related with nursing ethics and others areas of ethics which intersect with medical practice. Going beyond the physical practice of medicine, ethics of medicine also includes business and financial ethics as well as general ethical issues such as how to treat fellow human beings when they are in need.
The practice of medicine is designed to promote wellness. One cornerstone of medical ethics is the reflection of this, in the form of ethical standards which mandate that doctors work to heal or benefit their patients, avoiding unnecessary harm and pain. However, some situations are complicated. For example, a very ill patient may or may not receive benefits from a risky, dangerous, and painful treatment. This treatment could be considered unethical in a patient with less advanced disease, but acceptable if it has the potential to save someone's life, illustrating that much of medical ethics is complicated by the specifics of individual situations.
Medical ethics also includes issues such as doctor-patient confidentiality, the need for informed consent among patients, and basic standards of behavior around patients. For example, sexual relationships between patients and doctors are often deemed unethical. Business practices such as billing, doing volunteer work, and managing medical offices, clinics, and hospitals are also encompassed in ethics of medicine.
Many professional medical associations have codes of ethics which they expect their members to follow. These include general issues in medical ethics as well as topics specific to their specialty. For example, the American Psychiatric Association has clear codes of ethics which pertain to dealings with psychiatric patients in addition to a more general code of medical ethics it expects its members to abide by. Failure to follow ethical standards can result in expulsion from a professional organization. Likewise, clinics, hospitals, and other facilities hold their personnel to ethical codes.
Often, medical ethics can become a very complicated and tangled web, especially when it comes to dealing with relatively new technology, such as assisted reproduction technology. For situations like these, ethics committees are available to weigh the specifics of particular cases, proposed research, and new developments in the field. These committees draw members from a variety of fields to ensure that their debates are well balanced and include numerous perspectives on the issue. For example, an ethics committee might include several practicing doctors, a lawyer, a bioethicist, and a member of the clergy.