Medicine is explicitly committed to the traditional values of empathy, compassion, and altruism. Along with the “middle” principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, justice and respect for autonomy, these are among the values which form the ethical framework by which physician conduct is evaluated. But how is empathy to be understood as fundamental to the practice of ethical medicine? Should it be construed as a moral obligation? In this paper, I argue that empathy in the treatment of patients should not be upheld as a moral requirement for the practice of “good” medicine: such a construal of the role of empathy in professionalism cannot be supported by the substantive theories of utilitarianism, deontology, feminist ethics, or virtue ethics. Moreover, empirical research into the nature of empathy shows it to be a trait that varies substantially between individuals and that variation is governed to a notable degree by factors beyond the individual’s control.