Guidance on writing ethics essays

An ethics essay should have a clearly defined introduction, argument, and conclusion. Some guidance is included below.


In the introduction, you should clarify the title and expand on it, by saying how you will answer the question. For example:

“The issue of respect for faiths in healthcare is important because we live in a multi-cultural society, where people of many faiths will be encountered on a day to day basis. In this essay I will show why respect for autonomy means we have to show respect to religious faiths.”

My handy hint would be not to write the introduction until after you have finished the essay. It should act as a route map for the essay and be about 200 words long.


In the body of the essay you should give the information the question asks for.
The questions set have two separate strands – you will need to address them both.

The first strand is identifying the ethical issues.

Explain the relevant principles (the principles are the most important aspect for you) and how they apply in the specific situation given. Don’t just make a list, or explain all the principles in great detail, instead explain what the principle implies for the people affected.

Remember: some issues such as confidentiality and consent might involve more than one principle, and no situation is only ever about one cut and dried issue.
Often it isn’t possible (or wise) to include everything in detail, so it is perfectly okay to say

“There are many issues affecting different people. The doctor has to pay attention to the duty of care, the patient has responsibilities to themselves and their family, and there is also confidentiality from the staff and resource issues for the Trust. I am going to concentrate on what happens when a patient’s misunderstandings interfere with treatment”

This way you show awareness of many issues but can concentrate on the one or two you think are most important / interesting.

You should also consider points of view besides the one you personally believe. You might like to do this by writing something like:

“There are two points of view when it comes to a patient refusing treatment. Some people argue that a patient has the right to decide what happens to them for any reason, because it is their body. Others say that a health care professional has a duty to do the best for the health of their patient.”

(You could then expand on this by mentioning the arguments for a patient’s right to chose and the health professional’s duty.)

If there are additional pieces of thinking, include them after you have laid out the main points... relate them to clinical issues or important moral ones.

“Even if a patient has the right to decide what happens to themselves, should they have the right to decide for others... such as their children?”

The second strand of the ethics essay is asking for an argument.


It is making a claim or asking for a point of view to be JUSTIFIED, by you. Arguments need to be logical, even if the ethics can’t be ‘proven’ like a scientific theory. For a good argument you should:

a) Argue in favour of something : for ethical reasons – clinical and legal things might be something you should take into account- after all prognosis is a relevant factor but not an ethical issue in itself

b) Present the counter arguments (things that go against the point of view or against the arguments in favour)

c) Show how the points in favour still outweigh the negatives (or, if they can’t)

d) Propose solutions or amendments (if any are possible)

e) Draw these elements together to make a summary

There might be several different parts to a, b and c before you get to d and e!! However, don’t try and do too many at once. You should pick the two most relevant and go through those,

In very sketchy terms, you would want to lay out an argument something like this: (This is very simplified – don’t copy it, I’ll know )

a) The patient should be a Doctor’s main concern, as it is a duty the doctor has taken on by entering the profession

b) but this can’t happen in the real world due to financial constraints! There isn’t enough of everything to go round!

c) A doctor can’t worry about everyone else otherwise his patient will suffer

d) On a day to day basis the doctor has to prioritise the person in front of him, but can’t make demands for equipment to be taken from someone else

e) It is appropriate for a doctor to focus on the patient in front of him/her, but sometimes there will be times he/she can’t do everything.

The conclusion needs to do two things... it needs to ANSWER THE QUESTION (YES, both parts) and to mention how your argument got to this point. Don’t put any new information in your conclusion.

It is okay to add a caveat or exclusion to the answer ... indeed this is often very useful.