Justifying why healthcare professionals lie to patients
Justifying why healthcare professionals lie to patients
Among the virtues that a doctor should have, telling the truth is an important one. Hebert et al. define truth-telling regarding health care, as the practice of being open and straightforward with patients. This means establishing an authentic and genuine relationship with a patient. A healthcare professional should truly involve a patient in making decisions that pertain her health care. Truth telling is transmitting accurate information to the patient. Beauchamp indicates that truth telling is a way of respecting the patient. Once a patient is fully informed about her illness, she can make informed decisions in matters regarding the management of her illness. (Beauchamp pg51)
Truth telling creates trust between the patient and the doctor. It is, however, important to note that not absolute. Telling the truth may at times conflict with other requirements in healthcare. Expectations about truth telling in healthcare may vary from one place to another depending on the different cultures and societies. Some cultures, like some African cultures, advocate for communal personhood rather than autonomy. Some people argue that autonomy cannot be compared with respect for others. It is better to respect people than to be autonomous. A healthcare professional should, therefore, fail to disclose information or limit the amount of information to be disclosed in case the patient authorizes it. (Beauchamp pg59)
Beauchamp and Childress’s discussions focus on both arguments and counter arguments for limited or no disclosure of bad news to patients; they developed arguments against some authors who had presented the consequentialist argument.
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According to Beauchamp and Childress, the consequences were uncertain and hence non-disclosure could cause more suffering, the appropriate way should be to disclose the information in stages unlike giving all the information at once. They also argued that information should not be withheld from the patient since it lacks certainty or premises. Some information is complex and may not be understood by the patient, therefore telling them the truth will not make any difference. The argument that most patients never want to be told the truth about their illness is wrong, depending on the information presented by worldwide surveys hence they should be informed so as to take the relevant measures. (Beauchamp pg64)
Immanuel Kant argued that that lying is morally impermissible; he refers telling the truth as a duty every healthcare professional should deliver. Some lies, for example, white lies are motivated by good intentions however some may cause harm. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics state, it is morally ethical to discuss health conditions with a child patient and involving them in decisions regarding their health. The show of respect to children capacities will enhance their abilities in making future health decisions and as well as build their confidence. However, most parents will not agree with the opinion that they children should have access to potentially harmful information about their health. If the prognosis is uncertain, then disclosing this information to children becomes a challenge. Some health care professionals often try to minimize problems and in the process they fail to tell the entire truth, or sometimes they opt for a simpler explanation. They are prone to delivering bad news or admission of error. The doctor-patient relationship can be affected by the disclosure of errors, presentation of confusing information hence misleading the patient (Beauchamp pg 68-72)
Hebert et al. in his writing suggest that clinical uncertain should be shared with the patient, and the range of options that are available to them should as well be stated. This will also enable patients to appreciate the medical complexities, to make relevant inquiries and make informed decisions. Sometimes, professional healthcare lies to protect themselves, for example incidences when they commit medical errors and they become unwilling to admit their mistakes. They instead cover the lies to avoid consequences that they may face if they were to disclose the details of the treatment. For instance, health care professionals may lie to avoid facing a lawsuit. They may also lie to avoid the risk of losing their job if the mistakes are known. Some medical errors are as a result of carelessness, lack of concentration or being unqualified. Health care professionals should know that lying also constitutes to fraud. Some healthcare providers can even lie so as to manipulate patients. Such mistakes constitute fraud, and the patient can take a legal action against the healthcare provider. (Beauchamp pg 75-79)
Health care professional may sometimes feel that it is not right to disclose the facts. The motive behind this is to avoid the perceived harm to the patient. They therefore may be forced to use consequentialist reasoning. There are consequences of telling the truth to a patient who is in a critical condition. First, he or she may become hopeless. The patient may also refuse to take the appropriate treatment. The patient may also undergo depression. Many health care providers may not want to disclose the facts as they consider it culturally inappropriate. However, it is not ethical to disclose the details of an illness to the family members of a patient if he or she does not agree. It is, therefore, advisable to disclose full knowledge of the illness to the family members only if the patient has authorized it. (Beauchamp pg71)
Partnership in care has also been achieved over time, in respect to patient’s autonomy. This can help build a good doctor- patient relationship as the patients too will have the freedom to the question of forgoing a drug that has been prescribed by a doctor. Patients are autonomous regarding medical decisions, as they have the right to choose whether or not they will take a certain drug. A case study of Elizabeth Bouvia is a relevant example she experienced severe health conditions and was not able to move her limbs or skeletal muscles but despite this condition, the court allowed a moral and constitutional right to refuse treatment. However, most physicians consider this action as being against the recommended standards of practice. Many programs, for instance, Physical Order For Scope Treatment (POST) have been created as to give a patient the freedom to choose his or her fate in regard to one’s health conditions as this will ensure an individual best interests have been served. ( Beauchamp pg43)
In particular cases, health care professionals may be across illness whose diagnosis or prognosis is not certain. In such instances, the health care professionals may not want to give information that they are uncertain about the treatment of the ailment. They may end up lying to patients until they are completely informed about the diagnosis and prognosis of the disease. At times, health care professionals can lie to avoid disclosing information that may harm the family. For instance, they may not want to disclose details about the ailment of a child to its parents. Health care professionals can lie to patients about their ailment so as to manipulate them. For instance, a health care professional may discover that the ailment cannot be treated at the health(Beauchamp Pg41)
The argument about telling the truth or lying to patients has always been contentious. However, there has been the call for building trust between the healthcare professionals and their patients through telling the truth. Studies on truth in medicine have made significant changes in the doctor-patient relationship. Partnership in care has also been achieving over time, on the autonomy of patients.
All aspects of medical truth should be taught Heath science schools; Truth telling involves both medical facts and uncertainties. It is not morally acceptable to lie, and there should be no circumstances that justify lying. Patients should be informed about their exact health conditions clinical, uncertain should be shared with the patient, and the range of options that are available to them should as well be stated. This will also enable patients to appreciate the medical complexities, to make relevant inquiries and make informed decisions For effective treatment, a good relationship between a healthcare provider and a patient is necessary. There is always justification for telling the truth. A health care professional should, therefore, ensure that he or she always discloses the full details. It is, however, important to acknowledge instances where disclosure of facts may cause more harm than good.
Beauchamp, Tom L., LeRoy Walters, Jeffrey P. Kahn, and Anna C. Mastroianni ContemporaryIssues in Bioethics. 8th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 2013. Print.
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