Altruism: Research perspectives from Current psychology
Altruism is a principle in social psychology that describes any behavior that focuses on the well-fare of another party, especially if the action does not seem to have any direct benefit to the individual who performs it. Auguste Comte initially introduced the principle in the 19th century with the novel devotion of emphasizing the good and interest of others as the end of moral action. Altruism remains one of the most commonly employed virtues in the tradition and modern days in different cultures and religions. The concept was, and still often interpreted differently in various disciplines, but the fundamental idea of selflessly helping others is upheld.
In healthcare, altruism is a fundamental value for all health care providers, particularly the nurses. In the United States, medicine is regarded as an altruistic profession. Essential values of medical professionalism include care for others and self-control, which promotes the responsibility to act in the best interest of the patients. The principle of beneficence, which promotes the moral duty to act for the benefit of the patients at all times, best captures the sense of obligation because altruism goes beyond “feeling obligated.” Patients can also be altruistic in many ways, such as allowing doctors to perform medical tests on them without expecting any direct benefit.
The traditional biological definition of altruism describes it as any behavior that increases the benefits of one person while lowering the wellbeing of the actor. This definition contradicts the philosophical definition, which stresses that the action should intentionally and consciously intend to benefit the other person for it to termed as altruistic. But in a healthcare setting, these two definitions should not restrict the health care workers from helping other people as long as the actions help and benefit the patients.
Nurses and other health care professionals are often faced with the challenge of making life and death decisions. While it is their responsibility for being altruistic, some situation requires a lot of wisdom, knowledge, and experience. Any decision made must always be in the best interest of the patient without any form of self-interest. However, things don’t always go right. In such periods, altruism should be one of the most critical if not the main code of ethics to be used to decide the best course of action. However, other factor ethics and values such as cultural beliefs and values of the patients and their loved ones must also be considered.