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by Dr Steve Pearce and
Dr Jacinta Tan
Last reviewed: February 2021
Ethical dilemmas are common in psychiatry. These can
include balancing the side-effects and benefits of long-term
medication; compulsory treatment, electroconvulsive
treatment and neurosurgery for mental disorder
decisions; the limits of medical influence over patients'
behaviour; and the extent to which doctors should be held
responsible for their patients' actions. These all raise
fundamental ethical questions.
Some of these matters can seem
straightforward, and some are governed by law, but inevitably in
every psychiatrist's career ethical uncertainty will arise. In
these situations, an understanding of ethical principles is
essential in reaching (and defending) a decision.
Furthermore, having access to a clinical ethics committee
where outside experts can provide guidance can lead to better care
and provide professionals with advice and peace of mind when
making difficult decisions.
This module provides a fast primer in ethical
principles, and sets out how to start and use a clinical ethics
If you like this module, you may also be interested in:
professional practice: Part 1 and Part
2 by Dr Ashok G Patel and Dr Haider Malik
violations and sexual exploitation: recognition, avoidance and
management by Dr Neil Margerison and Professor Susan
Advance decisions in psychiatry: England and
Wales by Dr Lisa Williams
and Dr John Rigby
Download take-home notes to print and
Adshead G, Cave J (2021) An introduction to clinical ethics in
psychiatry. BJPsych Advances, 27: 20–25.