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Bioethics. 1993 Jul;7(4):290-314.

Doing what the patient orders: maintaining integrity in the doctor-patient relationship.


No profession has undergone as much scrutiny in the past several decades as that of medicine. Indeed, one might well argue that no profession has ever undergone so much change in so short a time. An essential part of this change has been the growing insistence that competent, adult patients have the right to decide about the course of their own medical treatment. However, the familiar and widely accepted principle of patient self-determination entails a corollary that has received little attention in the growing literature on the ethics of physician-patient relations: if patients are to direct the course of their own medical treatment, then physicians are at least sometimes to be guided in their actions on behalf of patients by values that are not, and may even be incompatible with, their own values. Unless it is supposed that it would be best if physicians were simply to accommodate any and all patient requests, a possibility I consider and reject in this paper, there are bound to be numerous instances of legitimate moral conflict between the preferences of physicians and patients. In this paper, I examine the implications of this sort of moral conflict from the standpoint of the integrity of the physician....I have also considered the common practice of patient referral from the standpoint of physician integrity, and asked whether a physician who refuses to treat a patient as a matter of conscience can consistently refer the patient to another physician for the same treatment....

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