Telling Patients the Truth

In On Telling Patients the Truth, Mack Lipkin claims that medical professionals are permitted to intentionally deceive their patients by withholding information from them regarding their diagnosis and/or prognosis. He proceeds to support his claim with a few different points such as patients not wanting to know their condition, patient’s comprehension in medicine is restricted, and the manipulation of placebos. In this paper, I will argue that Lipkin’s perspective on deception to patients is inadequately supported by implications and assumptions.

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I believe this hinders the relationship between the medical professional and their patients because he directly accuses the patient in many ways.

Lipkin addresses that the response of patients receiving a serious prognosis and/or diagnosis by generalizing the responses of his own physician patients to the whole patient population. He is implying that since a highly educated and rational professional indicates that they would not want to be informed about a fatal illness then neither would a typical individual. This general assumption is ethically wrong because it implies that Lipkin believes that patients are better dealt with through paternalism. Every individual has the right to be informed of their medical conditions despite what the physician believes is the best for them.

Lipkin supports his claim that it is morally permissible for medical professionals to tell the entire truth to their patients because most individuals who haven’t undergone medical school or college lack the understanding about the complexities of human physiology and pathology. This implication that Lipkin addresses ignores the possibility of the patient asking scrutinizing questions about their conditions so that they can comprehend what is truly going on within them. By the patients asking the physicians questions concerning their conditions they will develop a better understanding of their circumstances. Therefore, this would avoid misconceptions that the patient may have.

Also, Lipkin mentions the use of placebos for treatment to improve the patient’s psychological status. He suggests that this is the best way to deal with the news of serious medical conditions to disregard negative behavior. Lipkin dismisses the fact that patients may have a healthcare proxy that can be a consultant for them so that they better understand the full context of their diagnosis and/or prognosis. By the patient having a better understanding about their medical conditions then this behavior is less likely to occur.

To ensure good medical outcomes for patients, they should be informed about their medical conditions with the full truth from their physicians. The patients should always be permitted their right to manage their own medical decisions. When difficult situations arise concerning the patients’ health the physician should communicate with their patient in an honest practical approach. For these reasons Lipkin did not adequately justify his argument by utilizing assumptions and implications that directly criticized the patient.

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