BACKGROUND: Recently ethical problems such as sex discrimination, euthanasia, trade in organ transplantation, medical certificate, and doctors' prescription are in issue. Doctors believe that their ethical level is high, but their social reputation is not. The objective of this study was to find out how family physicians responded to ethical problems in a primary care field. METHODS: Information was obtained by questionnaire survey from 613 family physicians in Seoul & Kyunggi Province from Aug. to Sep. 1997. Overall respondents were 149 (24.3%). RESULTS: The rate of the family physicians who never performed defensive medical practice was 9.4%, seldom was 56.4%, sometimes was 26.8%, and frequently was 7.4%. The rate of the family physicians who never performed excessive medical practice was 38.3%, seldom was 31.5%, sometimes was 22.1%, and frequently was 8.1% respectively. The rate of those who received premium in purchasing medicine was 90.6%. They regarded registered nurses, aid nurses and other technicians as companions who had the same rights to doctors. 58.3% of the respondents answered that ethical level of themselves was above average compared to other people. 51.6% of the respondents answered that their ethical level was above average to other medical specialists. They agreed to artificial abortion in 57.7%, euthanasia in 65.1%, brain death in 87.9%, and in vitro fertilization in 74.5%. They disagreed to homosexuality in 79.2%, sex exchange surgery in 72.5%. CONCLUSION: Most family physicians answered that their ethical level was high, but they had difficulties in problems concerning excessive practice and the premium purchasing medicine.