The inherent paternalism in clinical practice

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 20 (3):299-311 (1995)
Abstract
It is sometimes suggested that the physician should offer the patient “just the facts,” preferably in a “value-free manner,” explain the different options, and then leave it to the patient to make the choice. This paper explores the extent to which this adviser model is realistic. The clinical decision process and the various components of clinical reasoning are discussed, and a distinction is made between the biological, empirical, empathic/hermeneutic and ethical components. The discussion is based on the ethical norms of the public health services in the Nordic countries, and the problems are illustrated by a clinical example. It is concluded that the adviser model is unrealistic. Patient information is important, but the complexity of clinical reasoning makes it impossible to separate facts and value judgments. It is claimed that there is an inherent element of paternalism in clinical decision-making and that clinical practice presupposes a mutual trust between physician and patient
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