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The Ethics Of Benevolent Deception Essay

1776 words - 7 pages

A practice commonly used in the medical field, “benevolent deception” is the act of physicians suppressing information about diagnoses in hopes of not causing patients emotional turmoil (Skloot 63). Benevolent deception is a contentious subject because when used, the bioethical principles of respect for autonomy and beneficence can conflict with each other. Respect for autonomy is the act of physicians acknowledging their patients’ abilities to make voluntary decisions on their own regarding their health care, while beneficence is the duty of doctors to help patients and remove harm from them (McCormick 4-5) When giving patients diagnoses, physicians are morally obliged to try to follow these doctrines, which is why some may mistakenly use benevolent deception because of how it honors the principle of beneficence. Due to the assumption that patients would not want to hear devastating news relating to their health, benevolent deception is deliberately used by numerous medical doctors in attempts to not cause emotional harm to a patient (Higgs 8).
However, in most medical situations, benevolent deception is not permissible because the patients’ given right to autonomy is disrespected by doctors. The only time when this practice is justifiable is if it used as a “last resort”, i.e., during circumstances of a crisis, which in this context is a life-threatening emergency with limited time available for a doctor to fully explain the diagnosis. Also, the motive for using deception must be to prevent extreme psychological or physical distress that could severely harm the patient. Nevertheless, except for when these exceptional circumstances occur, benevolent deception overall should not be utilized in everyday medical practice.
The majority of the time benevolent deception is used, the principle of respect for autonomy is disregarded in favor of trying to be beneficent to the patient. However, doctors should not prioritize beneficence over respect for autonomy because of the importance of allowing a patient to have free will. According to Roger Higgs, it is considered in modern day society that an individual himself is assumed to be the best judge of his personal interests, and that it is a basic right to be able to make decisions pertaining to one’s own life—a right that “should not be taken away simply on the grounds of illness” (11). Respecting autonomy should be a priority because it preserves a patient’s right to know what is going on with their health and allows him or her to make personal decisions regarding its care. When a physician strictly follows the principle of beneficence instead of respect for autonomy, such as through lying to protect patients from emotional harm, the patients become unaware about the reality of their wellbeing. Without knowledge of the truth, this aforementioned right of freedom to make one’s own decisions is taken away from patients—how can one make a choice about their health when those choices are kept hidden?...

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