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In Western countries, the ideal professional and ethical attributes of healthcare providers and the ideal patient-doctor relationship have been analysed in detail. Other cultures, however, may have different norms, arising in response to diverse healthcare needs, cultural values and offering alternative perspectives. In this paper, drawing a case study, we introduce the concept of Shinmi, used in Japan to describe a desirable approach to medical care. Shinmi means kind or cordial in Japanese. In the medical context, it refers to doctors treating patients with a degree of emotional closeness as if they were the doctors’ own family. We analyse the concept of Shinmi, drawing on virtue ethics. We distinguish two different elements to a Shinmi-na attitude. As illustrated in our example, excessive Shinmi can be problematic for patients and doctors. Furthermore, elements of Shinmi may conflict with existing Western values (for example, norms that encourage emotional detachment and discourage doctors’ treatment of family members). However, if pursued appropriately, we argue that a balanced Shinmi-na approach can be conducive to the goals of medicine. The concept of Shinmi may be valuable for medical students, in Japanese and potentially other health care systems, and help them to cultivate a virtuous approach to meeting the emotional needs of patients.

Original publication




Journal article


Asian Bioethics Review

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