Issues in complementary and alternative medicine
Issues in complementary and alternative medicine

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Issues in complementary and alternative medicine

3.21 Conclusion

This extract has shown that CAM practice raises a variety of ethical issues. Although ethical considerations have different dimensions when applied to CAM, this extract demonstrated that ethical issues – such as consent, competence, boundaries and effective communication – remain central to good practice. CAM practitioners, like all other responsible health care workers, must be taught and encouraged to recognise the ethical dimensions of their work. All practitioners must be accountable for their own actions. Non-affiliated practitioners may escape accountability to a professional body, but they remain accountable to their users and to their own ethical standards. Professional codes of ethics are only a partial basis for ethical practice, but they may prove to be too vague for use in specific situations. As well as having ethical responsibilities, all practitioners must work within the law. They must be up to date with the law on informed consent, confidentiality and data protection, as well as provisions affecting their specific sphere of practice. Practitioners need to understand both the legal and the ethical implications of their duty of care and to remember that the privileges of being a professional depend on honouring and upholding the values and ethics of the profession.

Key points

  • Ethics is as important to the CAM relationship as it is to health care relationships within orthodox medical practice.

  • Western bioethics prioritises respect for autonomy over the duty of beneficence. This is demonstrated by the requirement to obtain explicit consent. Respect for autonomy is important to CAM practitioners and users, although the duty of beneficence also underpins CAM relationships.

  • The professional relationship is a relationship of trust, which confers rights and responsibilities. Autonomous practitioners are accountable to their users, themselves, their professional body, their employers and society.

  • Codes of ethics and conduct give basic guidance on what counts as ethical practice, but they must be supplemented by professional judgement.

  • Sometimes ethical responsibilities for health care workers, including CAM practitioners, are more stringent than legal requirements.


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