Clinical essentialising: a qualitative study of doctors' medical and moral practice [Book Review]

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 13 (2):107-113 (2010)

While certain substantial moral dilemmas in health care have been given much attention, like abortion, euthanasia or gene testing, doctors rarely reflect on the moral implications of their daily clinical work. Yet, with its aim to help patients and relieve suffering, medicine is replete with moral decisions. In this qualitative study we analyse how doctors handle the moral aspects of everyday clinical practice. About one hundred consultations were observed, and interviews conducted with fifteen clinical doctors from different practices. It turned out that the doctors’ approach to clinical cases followed a rather strict pattern across specialities, which implied transforming patients’ diverse concerns into specific medical questions through a process of ‘essentialising’: Doctors broke the patient’s story down, concretised the patient’s complaints and categorised the symptoms into a medical sense. Patients’ existential meanings were removed, and the focus placed on the patients’ functioning. By essentialising, doctors were able to handle a complex and ambiguous reality, and establish a medically relevant problem. However, the process involved a moral as well as a practical simplification. Overlooking existential meanings and focusing on purely functional aspects of patients was an integral part of clinical practice and not an individual flaw. The study thus questions the value of addressing doctors’ conscious moral evaluations. Yet doctors should be aware that their daily clinical work systematically emphasises beneficence at the expense of others—that might be more important to the patient
Keywords Beneficence  Clinical decision-making  Dehumanising  Empirical research  Grounded theory  Medical ethics  Moral practice  Professional values  Qualitative
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DOI 10.1007/s11019-009-9193-z
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References found in this work BETA

Principles of Biomedical Ethics.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1979 - Oxford University Press.
Why Don't Physicians Use Ethics Consultation?L. Davies & Leonard D. Hudson - 1999 - Journal of Clinical Ethics 10 (2):116.

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Citations of this work BETA

Ethics in Cross-Cultural Encounters: A Medical Concern?Arild Kjell Aambø - forthcoming - Medical Humanities:medhum-2018-011546.

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