Medical-ethical Guidelines

The new possibilities created by advances in medicine frequently raise ethical questions. For more than 50 years, the Central Ethics Committee of the SAMS has been drafting medical-ethical guidelines that provide physicians and other health professionals with specific guidance for medical practice. The SAMS is organizing a symposium on the significance and legitimacy of its guidelines in September 2024.

Together with the University of Berne, the SAMS is organizing a national symposium entitled «Governing by Values» on 3 September 2024. The scientific results of the SNSF project of the same name (see below «History of the guidelines») will show how norms have changed historically. Subsequently, the relevance, benefits, but also the development process and legitimacy of medical-ethical guidelines will be presented and discussed in detail. The symposium aims to contribute to a transparent and practice-oriented further development of guidelines.


Join the discussion: What significance and impact do the SAMS guidelines have for medical practice, from a legal and ethical perspective?


Registration in German or French 



Program from 03.09.2024 in German

Program from 03.09.2024 in French

Procedure for developing medical-ethical guidelines

The Central Ethics Committee (CEC) of the SAMS identifies and discusses ethical problems in medicine and develops practical guidance. To prepare guidelines, the CEC appoints subcommittees comprised of carefully selected experts who follow clearly defined procedures. These include, for example, expert hearings and consultations, a public consultation, and approval by the CEC, Executive Board and Senate of the SAMS.


All current guidelines can be downloaded under Publications. Print versions in French and German can be ordered free of charge. Guidelines that are no longer applicable are available in the online archive. Information on guidelines in preparation can be found below.


Current guidelines


Guidelines archive



Legal framework and legitimacy of the guidelines

Many SAMS guidelines concern topics that directly affect fundamental rights. Some legal experts criticize this process, stating that a foundation should not «set standards» under private law. However, the SAMS stresses that guidelines never serve to replace a legislative process. Rather, they act as «precursors» to legislation or as a «guide» for medical practice.


In addition, the question of the legitimacy of SAMS guidelines has gained public attention in recent years due to controversial topics such as assisted suicide, coercive measures in medicine and triage decisions under exceptional resource scarcity. The SAMS has commissioned a legal mandate to reflect on these issues in depth. The findings will be reported in autumn 2024, for example as part of the «Governing by Values» symposium (see top of page).


Mandate holder

Prof. Dr. iur. Franziska Sprecher, Bern


Support group

Prof. Paul Hoff, Zollikon, President CEC, Chair

Sibylle Ackermann, SAMS, ex officio

Susanne Brauer, PhD, Zürich, member CEC, ethics

Prof. Mio Filipovic, St. Gallen, member Executive Board SAMS, medicine

Prof. Thomas Gächter, Zürich, law

Dr. Damian König, Sion, member CEC, law



History of the guidelines

For more than 50 years, the SAMS has been developing medical-ethical guidelines to support the professionals involved. The first guidelines were published in 1969. They dealt with the «diagnosis» of brain death and followed the first heart transplant. These SAMS guidelines are a good example of the Academy’s guidelines-related activities in its early days. The following article describes these activities and subsequent developments in detail.


Since 2019, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has funded the research project Governing by Values: Zur Geschichte der Medizin- und Bioethik in der Schweiz, which sheds light on the role of the SAMS and the medical-ethical guidelines, among other topics. First results can be found in the focus article in the SAMS Bulletin 4/2023:


Case studies on guidelines

To introduce readers to the SAMS guidelines, the content of selected guidelines is presented in several case studies using examples from everyday medical practice. These case studies on the medical-ethical guidelines are available in German and in French.







lic. theol., dipl. biol. Sibylle Ackermann
Head Department Ethics
Tel. +41 31 306 92 73