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Frequently Asked Questions on Ethics

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What is the Declaration of Professional Responsibility?

The AMA House of Delegates’ "Declaration of Professional Responsibility: Medicine’s Social Contract with Humanity” is a public reaffirmation of physicians’ dedication to the ideals and obligations of the profession. These ideals and obligations transcend physician roles and specialties, professional associations, geographic boundaries and political differences, uniting all physicians in a community of service to humankind.

What obligations does a physician have under the Hippocratic Oath?

The AMA does not have formal policy related to the Oath. Some of the tenets of the Oath represent long-standing ethical traditions that the AMA supports, while others are somewhat outdated. A May 2000 article from AMNews discusses the modern meaning of the Hippocratic Oath.

The AMA used to reprint a translation of the Oath in our Code of Medical Ethics. We still have information on the history and relation of the Oath to the AMA Code of Medical Ethics included in the preface to the Code.  

Physicians may take other oaths when they begin or when they graduate from medical school. In addition, they may pledge to uphold professional standards and codes of ethics when they become members of professional associations, such as the AMA or their specialty or state medical society. For instance, every physician who is a member of the AMA must uphold the AMA’s Principles of Medical Ethics (PDF).

Because most oaths and codes are administered by voluntary associations and not by regulatory agencies (such as the state agencies that issue licenses to practice medicine), the most serious disciplinary action these voluntary associations typically can take is to expel the member physician from the association.

However, regulatory agencies that oversee physicians take allegations of unethical or unprofessional conduct very seriously, and such actions may warrant more serious disciplinary action against a physician’s license to practice. For further information on how to contact these agencies, please see the information above on how to file a complaint.

How do I file a complaint against a physician I believe is behaving unethically or unprofessionally?

Your state licensing board can help you file a complaint or investigate a physician who you believe is acting unethically or unprofessionally.

What is the AMA's policy or position on a given subject?

AMA policy can be found in several ways:

My physician has refused to provide me with a copy of my medical records, or is stating that I will be charged for a copy of my medical records. Is this ethical?

AMA policy in the Code of Medical Ethics permits that a reasonable fee be charged for copying medical records. This policy may be found in Opinions on Privacy, Confidentiality & Medical Records, 3.3.1 Management of Medical Records. In addition, individual states may have regulations defining what a reasonable fee is. Contact your state licensing board or medical society to find out what the regulations are in your particular state. 

My physician has said that I will need to find a new doctor. Is that ethical? 

In general, the AMA Code of Medical Ethics states that physicians are free to choose whom to serve (see Principles of Medical Ethics, Principle VI), but that physicians have “an obligation to support continuity of care for their patients" (see Opinions on Patient-Physician Relationships; 1.1.5 Terminating a Patient-Physician Relationship." Physicians and patients wanting to know more about the appropriate mechanism for terminating a patient-physician relationship should determine if there are any applicable laws pertaining to the amount of notice required, documentation, etc. Contact your state licensing board or medical society  to find out what the regulations are in your state.

Is it ethical for a physician I have never seen to refuse to see me? 

Opinions on Patient-Physician Relationships, 1.1.2 “Prospective Patients” defines circumstances in which a physician may ethically decline to accept specific patients before a patient-physician relationship has been established.

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