Responsibility: From its conceptual foundations to its practical application in intensive care units


  • Carla Margarida Teixeira Universidade do Porto
  • Ana Sofia Carvalho Universidade Católica Portuguesa
  • Sandra Martins Pereira Universidade Católica Portuguesa


There has been a shift in the language of responsibility because the threat of malpractice litigation is encouraging physicians to assume a more responsible role in caring for their patients. Consequently, instead of paying attention to the moral dimension of this principle, professionals are sometimes much more concerned about legal repercussions. This article aims therefore at analyzing the recent literature on responsibility in intensive care, focusing on its ethical dimension. By analyzing the contributions of Emmanuel Levinas, Hans Jonas and Paul Ricoeur, who placed special emphasis on the theme of “moral responsibility”, we will attempt to shed some light on this ethical principle within the specific context of Intensive Care Medicine. This paper underlines the importance of responsibility in order to draw attention to the need to establish an appropriate balance between autonomy and self/other-oriented responsibilities. A tridimensional approach is suggested to frame responsibility within the context of intensive care.


professional ethics, clinical ethics, end-of-life care, decision-making, interpersonal relations, professional-patient relationship