Humanistic medicine or values-based medicine . . . what's in a name?

J Miles Little
Med J Aust 2002; 177 (6): 319-321. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2002.tb04792.x
Published online: 16 September 2002


  • "Humanistic medicine" is a term compounded, for therapeutic purposes, with the good intent of reminding clinicians of their need to be compassionate and empathic. Although the expression is arresting, and demands thought, it does not go far enough.

  • "Values-based medicine" is a stronger term, reminding clinicians of the sustaining values that underpin the whole health endeavour. These values include an acceptance of the value of individual human life in quantity and quality, and of the importance to both individuals and communities of human security and flourishing.

  • Values-based medicine can incorporate all the other paradigms of medicine, including scientific and evidence-based medicine, within it, because it can include anything that contributes to human security and flourishing.

  • If we are to seek a new paradigm for a reconstructed view of healthcare, the term "values-based medicine" might have more power and relevance than "humanistic medicine".

  • J Miles Little

  • Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney, NSW.



I am grateful to Kathleen Montgomery, Associate Professor, Organisations and Management, at the A Garry Anderson School of Management at Riverside, California, for suggesting this topic for discussion, for organising my visit to Riverside, and for her critical and constructive comments on the article.

Competing interests:

None identified. I was paid travel expenses and a small honorarium for presenting this work at the University of California – Riverside, USA.

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