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Beneficence is a concept used mainly in research ethics and refers mainly to the duty of the researcher to always have the welfare of the participant as a goal in any clinical researches or trials. Although the concept was previously brought to light by David Hume, it was finally developed and imposed by Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of ethics. While Hume based his ethical principles on sentiment, Kant seeks universal principles of duty, stating that actions may be morally worthy only in the case when benevolent action is a motive of duty.
However, there have been several philosophers who, during history, have claimed that individuals have no obligations of benevolence at all, that the beneficent actions are virtuous and moral ideals but they should never be treated as obligations. Therefore, persons who fail to act benevolent are not morally deficient. Bernard Gert, in particular, stated that there are no moral rules of beneficence, there are only moral ideals. Thus, the general goal of ethics and morality is to minimise harm only and not to promote good.
The concept of benevolence nowadays seems natural to research participants in clinical trials and to all the medical patients. However, any health intervention has the potential to harm the patient. Whereupon, the harm was induced intentionally, the term maleficence is the best way to describe such a practice.
There are three basic concepts that arise in the discussion of beneficence and each refers to the welfare of the participant: one should not do harm, one should always prevent harm and always practice good. The main issue that this raises to the concept of beneficence is the harm inflicted on the benefactor, as there are many individuals who will sacrifice themselves in order to help other individuals.