• A
  • |
  • A
  • Text size

Declaration of Professional Responsibility

Declaration of Professional Responsibility

In the days following the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York in September 2001, thousands of physicians from around the country telephoned and e-mailed the AMA to offer their help, demonstrating their shared professional commitment to the health and well-being of the public. Believing that the perils and plagues that presently threaten human life and safety demanded a reaffirmation of professional ideals by the world community of physicians, the AMA drafted Declaration of Professional Responsibility: Medicine's Social Contract with Humanity.

The Declaration of Professional Responsibility
has been translated into the following languages
(other translations pending):

Deutsch | Français | Español | |

The Declaration of Professional Responsibility is an oath by which 21st century physicians can publicly uphold and celebrate the ideals that, throughout history, have inspired individuals to enter medicine and the conduct that, by giving life to those ideals, has earned society's trust in the healing profession. The duties the Declaration imposes transcend physician roles and specialties, professional associations, geographic boundaries, and political divides. In this regard, the Declaration differs from codes of ethics used in the adjudication of legal and ethical issues by professional boards and courts of law, national and international.

The Declaration's language reflects the historical moment in which it arises. It frames medicine's goals and physicians' duties in terms to which all those who respect the profession's obligations to care for the sick and suffering can subscribe. Greater specificity would compromise the universal applicability of the Declaration and possibly divide rather than unite physicians. All physicians, for example, can pledge to "respect human life and the dignity of every individual" (#1). More specific language might provoke argument over definitions of personhood. Similarly, the duty to refrain from supporting or committing crimes against humanity (#2) enjoins physicians from engaging in biochemical warfare research and a host of other acts that would result in human suffering, and the duty to treat the sick and injured with competence and compassion and without prejudice (#3) prohibits racial, ethnic, and other forms of bias.

The Declaration's nine duties and obligations speak to physicians in their roles as clinicians (#3-#5), researchers (#6), educators (#7, #9), and members of a civil society (#1, #2, #8). The Declaration of Professional Responsibility asks physicians to use their skills beyond the bounds of the traditional patient-physician relationship in responding to exceptional global conditions and need for care. Thus, the Preamble to the Declaration concludes by stating, on behalf of all physicians, that "humanity is our patient." This is more than rhetoric, for in disasters, epidemics, and overburdened health care systems around the world, few are able to become "patients" in the traditional sense, yet many need care.

As a professional oath, the Declaration of Professional Responsibility is activated when physicians speak it aloud, affirming together, "We, the members of the world community of physicians, make these promises, solemnly, freely, and upon our personal and professional honor."