Physicians have the responsibility of providing patients with the most appropriate medical care. Prior to the last three decades, the relationship between physicians and patients was paternalistic. They acted in the best interest of their patients.
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This also means the professionals used deception, including prescribing inactive treatments, to try to meet their clients’ needs. In the contemporary society, however, deception is largely not tolerable. Cooperation between physicians and patients to enable everyone get the information for making informed decisions is an extensively accepted model today.
Nonetheless, there is a need for balancing hope with realism. Since deception deprive patients their right to information regarding their health, physicians should avoid it; however, deception is warranted if honesty would sacrifice the therapeutic relationship or lead to severe medical problems.
When delivering health care services, physicians can use deception to embrace good bedside manner, compassion, and balance hope with realism, which is part of their work. One of the most common occasions when doctors and nurses should use deception is when seeking the consent of the patient to undergo surgery or receive a risky but extremely necessary treatment. When seeking the consent, the physician should not release every piece of information about the cure of the disease to the patient.
According to Bersoff (2003), it is not realistic for physicians to discuss with the patient every possible effect of the treatment before initiating the treatment. Going over every side effect that rarely occurs is not useful and, therefore, the physician should not involve the patient on the issue. These experts should exercise rational judgment in determining the most appropriate information to present to the patient. Discussions on the risks or weakness of the treatment can scare the patient and is, therefore, not necessary.
Another occasion when deception can be medically helpful for a patient is when honesty would sacrifice the therapeutic relationship (Helbert, 2009). Patients with certain emotional disorders need special care to enable them to get the best treatment. When dealing with the individuals, physicians need to take a gentler approach.
They need to tell the patient with symptoms of stress about the cause of the symptoms in a gentle manner and explain that the symptoms would naturally disappear. Using this approach is more effective than giving brutal, judgmental, and honest statements. However, the physician should guide the patient to overcome the stress if the root cause of the stress remains unresolved.
The morality of using deception in medical practice has biblical support. Generally, the Bible teaches against deception and other vices. However, a close study of the Bible reveals that every human being should be each other’s keeper. The Bible says that irrespective of individuals’ scope of service in the church, they must love their neighbors to qualify for God’s crowning (Galatians 6: 2, The Holy Bible: King James Version, 2004).
Christian physicians should therefore make decisions that demonstrate care and love for their patients. The biblical teaching on love implies that providing information that may scare a patient from undergoing a risky treatment when there is no alternative remedy is inappropriate.
In addition, physicians should not provide information that would sacrifice the therapeutic relationship. Such pieces of information are not helpful for the client healing. The Bible requires physicians to disclose pieces of information that have clinical benefits, but hold back those that are none essential.
Outstandingly, there are scenarios when clinical deception is never justified. For instance, when a patient is encountering a scenario requiring them to make a difficult health decision, such as whether or not to have a risky treatment, the physician should provide all facts that would aid the patient to make an appropriate decision.
The physician may embrace certain moral believes, but the facts may come in handy in reaching the best conclusion. The physician should objectively present the facts to help the patient make a decision that offers the best benefits. It is mistaken to deceive patients that their condition would go away without getting further treatment if the assertion has no scientific backing, but the physician intends to gratify the sick person (Helbert, 2009).
Another common scenario that requires information disclosure after a diagnosis reveals that the patient is not suffering from a physical health condition.
This requires the physician to give an honest opinion. Hanson, Kerkhoff, & Bush (2005) said that in such situations, the physician should inform the patient that they are not suffering from physical ailments, but the symptoms they have are entirely psychological. The physician should also make them understand that their conditions are difficult to treat, but psychiatric treatment can be the best treatment option.
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This kind of disclosure keeps patients informed and empowers them to make the right decision at the right time. Since making medical decision at the most appropriate time enhances the chances of saving the life of a patient, providing honest opinion in a timely manner is also appropriate. The physician needs to treat every case uniquely and present the information within a clinical context.
Bersoff, D. N. (2003). Ethical conflicts in psychology (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Hanson, S. L., Kerkhoff, T. R., & Bush, S. S. (2005). Health care ethics for psychologists: a casebook. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Helbert, P. C. (2009). Doing right: a practical guide to ethics for medical trainees and physicians (2nd ed.). Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford University Press.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2004). Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers.