What Does 'Respect' Mean?

Exploring the Moral Obligation of Health Professionals to Respect Patients

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. The authors of this article develop a conception of respect as “recognition of the unconditional value of patients as persons.” Respect in this sense imposes a genuine moral duty on physicians. It involves respecting the autonomy of patients, but also goes beyond that. Individuals do not need to be autonomous to qualify for respect. The type of respect that physicians owe to patients is independent of the patient's personal characteristics, goals or preferences. The idea of respect promoted in this article has both a cognitive dimension (believing that patients have value) and a behavioral dimension (acting in accordance with this belief).

The authors suggest that actions and behaviors that show respect are important but not a substitute for a genuine attitude of respect. Physicians need to engage in the internal work of appreciating the value of the people they treat.