Compassion as the reunion of feminine and masculine virtues in medicine

Document Type

Journal Article

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Publication Title

Journal of medical ethics and history of medicine



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Compassion, Doctor-patient relationship, End-of-life care, Futility, Virtue ethics


The central role of the virtue of compassion in the shaping of the professional character of healthcare providers is a well-emphasized fact. On the other hand, the utmost obligation of physicians is to alleviate or eliminate human suffering. Traditionally, according to the Aristotelian understanding of virtues and virtue ethics, human virtues have been associated with masculinity. In recent decades, the founders of the ethics of care have introduced a set of virtues with feminine nature. This paper analyzes the notion of compassion as a common virtue between the traditional/masculine and care/feminine sets of virtues and shows that compassion is a reunion and merging point of both sets of human virtues. This role can be actualized through the development and promotion of compassion as an important part of the character of an ideal physician/healthcare provider. In addition, this paper argues that the notion of compassion can shed light on some important aspects of the contemporary debates on healthcare provider-patient relationship and medical futility. Despite the recent technological and scientific transformations in medicine, the interpersonal relationship between healthcare providers and patients still plays a vital role in pursuing the goals of healthcare. The virtue of compassion plays a central role in the establishment of a trust-based physician-patient relationship. This central role is discernible in the debate of medical futility in which making difficult decisions, depends largely on trust and rapport which are achievable by compassion in the physician and the recognition of this compassion by the patients and their surrogate decision makers.

Open Access


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