Promoting ethics across the healthcare sector: what can codes achieve?

Wendy Lipworth, Ian Kerridge, Kathleen Montgomery, Paul A. Komesaroff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleOtherpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Over the course of the twentieth century, numerous national and international ethics ‘codes’ have been developed. While such codes serve important substantive and symbolic functions, they can also pose challenges. In this article, we discuss these challenges, noting that they fall into four main categories relating to conceptual tensions, power imbalances, organisational barriers, and threats of exploitation. We illustrate these challenges using examples provided from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. We emphasise the importance of accountability in the development and maintenance of national and international codes and argue that, despite all their challenges, codes provide an important common language among otherwise disparate and sometimes adversarial groups, and provide visible and explicit sets of standards that may be invoked by community members to criticise and hold powerful bodies to account. This is particularly important for practitioners and researchers who belong to organisations that are signatories to codes, who can use these codes to both guide and justify ethical behaviour in the face of competing organisational, professional and political imperatives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1333-1338
Number of pages6
JournalInternal Medicine Journal
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Asia Pacific Economic Cooperative
  • ethics code
  • organisational ethics
  • United Nations

Cite this