Ancient Chinese medical ethics and the four principles of biomedical ethics

Journal of Medical Ethics 25 (4):315-321 (1999)
Abstract
The four principles approach to biomedical ethics (4PBE) has, since the 1970s, been increasingly developed as a universal bioethics method. Despite its wide acceptance and popularity, the 4PBE has received many challenges to its cross-cultural plausibility. This paper first specifies the principles and characteristics of ancient Chinese medical ethics (ACME), then makes a comparison between ACME and the 4PBE with a view to testing out the 4PBE's cross-cultural plausibility when applied to one particular but very extensive and prominent cultural context. The result shows that the concepts of respect for autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence and justice are clearly identifiable in ACME. Yet, being influenced by certain socio-cultural factors, those applying the 4PBE in Chinese society may tend to adopt a "beneficence-oriented", rather than an "autonomy-oriented" approach, which, in general, is dissimilar to the practice of contemporary Western bioethics, where "autonomy often triumphs"
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