Difference Between Beneficence and Nonmaleficence

Key Difference – Beneficence vs Nonmaleficence
 

The concepts of beneficence and nonmaleficence are two closely related ethical concepts which are mostly used in the fields of healthcare and medicine. Beneficence refers to the act of helping others. Nonmaleficence is doing no harm. Thus, the main difference between beneficence and nonmaleficence is that beneficence prompts you to help others whereas nonmaleficence prompts you not to harm others. These two concepts taken together state that you must act in a manner that benefits the others and at the same time, you must not cause them any harm.

What is Beneficence?

Beneficence refers to actions that are done for the benefit of others. Beneficent actions can help prevent or remove harm or to simply improve the situation of others. In other words, beneficent actions include rescuing a person from harm or danger or helping a person to improve his situation. Specific examples of beneficence include rescuing a person from drowning, encouraging a person to quit smoking, building a home for a homeless person, educating people about general sanitation, etc.

As mentioned above, these two terms are mostly related to medical ethics.  In this context, beneficence refers to taking actions that serve the best interests of patients. It involves the obligation to help those who are in trouble, and protecting patients’ rights, providing treatment for those who need it, preventing further complications, etc. Beneficence is considered as the core value of healthcare ethics.

Difference Between Beneficence and Nonmaleficence

What is Nonmaleficence?

Nonmaleficence comes from the Latin maxim primum non nocere meaning “first, do no harm”. Thus, nonmaleficence basically means do no harm. Examples of nonmaleficence include not saying hurtful things to another person and not giving harmful drugs. In the practice of medicine, examples of nonmaleficence include stopping a medication that is shown to be harmful or refusing to provide a treatment that has not been shown to be effective.

Many people consider that nonmaleficence is the primary consideration of ethics since it is more important not to harm the patients than to do them good. Since many treatment methods involve some degree of harm, the concept nonmaleficence would imply that the harm shouldn’t be disproportionate to the benefit of the treatment.

Key Difference - Beneficence vs Nonmaleficence

Not giving harmful drugs, as well as stopping drugs that have harmful effects are examples of nonmaleficence.

What is the difference between Beneficence and Nonmaleficence?

Meaning:

Beneficence refers to actions that promote the well-being of others.

Nonmaleficence means to do no harm.

Actions:

Beneficence involves helping to prevent or remove harm or to improve the situation of others.

Nonmaleficence simply involves not doing any harmful action.

Importance:

Beneficence may be secondary to nonmaleficence.

Nonmaleficence is considered to be the primary principle.

Examples:

Beneficent actions involve rescuing a person from danger, encouraging a smoker to quit smoking, and helping a homeless person.

Nonmaleficent actions involve not giving a person harmful drugs, not saying hurtful things to another, and not encouraging someone to smoke.

Image Courtesy:
“Flickr – The U.S. Army – Helping Village Elders” By The U.S. Army – Helping Village Elders (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
“1476749” (Public Domain) via Pixbay