Skip to Main Content




Quality of life is the third topic that must be reviewed in order to understand any problem in clinical ethics. Although the idea of quality of life is difficult to define, it is often raised in complex cases and must be addressed. This chapter explains the concept of quality of life, analyzes its implications for clinical decisions, and suggests certain distinctions and cautions that should be observed when discussing this concept in clinical care. The chapter also reviews in detail an area of clinical care in which quality-of-life considerations often loom large, namely, end-of-life care, including termination of life-support and physician-assisted dying.


3.0.1 The Ethical Principle of Beneficence as Satisfaction


The two ethical principles discussed in the previous topics, namely, beneficence and respect for autonomy, are relevant to this topic. In Topic One, we focused on one implication of the very broad idea of beneficence, namely, as a moral principle that directs persons to help others in need. Medical indications comprise the actions which aim to meet the needs of patients. In this topic, we focus on another aspect of the principle of beneficence, namely, the duty to act in ways that bring satisfaction to other persons. Many moral philosophers have taken satisfaction or happiness as a significant element of beneficence. We propose that it is particularly relevant to clinical decisions. One significant feature of all medical interventions is the aim to produce a state of satisfaction for the patient who has sought treatment. He or she is not only made well, but feels well. Quality of life, then, refers to that degree of satisfaction that people experience and value about their lives as a whole, and in its particular aspects, such as physical and psychological health. The ethical dimensions of any case in clinical medicine must include not only appropriateness of interventions (beneficence as help) and respect for the patient’s preferences (autonomy) but also the improvement of quality of life (beneficence as satisfaction). When medical care fails to do so, ethical problems will arise, as this topic will demonstrate.

Beauchamp  TL, Childress  JM. Utilitarianism. Principles of Biomedical Ethics. 7th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2012.


3.0.2 Meaning of Quality of Life


Quality of life as a state of satisfaction expresses a value judgment: the experience of living, as a whole or in some aspect, is judged to be good or bad, better or worse. Efforts have been made to develop measures of quality of life that can be used to give some empirical dimension to this value judgment and to evaluate outcomes of clinical interventions. Such measures usually list a variety of physical functions, such as mobility, performance of activities of daily living, absence or presence of pain, social interaction, and mental acuity. Scales are devised to rate the range of performance and satisfaction with these aspects of living. ...

Want remote access to your institution's subscription?

Sign in to your MyAccess profile while you are actively authenticated on this site via your institution (you will be able to verify this by looking at the top right corner of the screen - if you see your institution's name, you are authenticated). Once logged in to your MyAccess profile, you will be able to access your institution's subscription for 90 days from any location. You must be logged in while authenticated at least once every 90 days to maintain this remote access.


About MyAccess

If your institution subscribes to this resource, and you don't have a MyAccess profile, please contact your library's reference desk for information on how to gain access to this resource from off-campus.

Subscription Options

AccessPharmacy Full Site: One-Year Subscription

Connect to the full suite of AccessPharmacy content and resources including 30+ textbooks such as Pharmacotherapy: A Pathophysiologic Approach and Goodman & Gilman's The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, high-quality videos, images, and animations, interactive board review, drug and herb/supplements databases, and more.

$595 USD
Buy Now

Pay Per View: Timed Access to all of AccessPharmacy

24 Hour Subscription $34.95

Buy Now

48 Hour Subscription $54.95

Buy Now

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.