Liberal rationalism and medical decision-making

Bioethics. 1997 Apr;11(2):115-29. doi: 10.1111/1467-8519.00049.


I contrast Robert Veatch's recent liberal vision of medical decision-making with a more rationalist liberal model. According to Veatch, physicians are biased in their determination of what is in their patient's overall interests in favour of their medical interests. Because of the extent of this bias, we should abandon the practice of physicians offering what they guess to be the best treatment option. Patients should buddy up with physicians who share the same values -- 'deep value pairing'. The goal of choice is maximal promotion of patient values. I argue that if subjectivism about value and valuing is true, this move is plausible. However, if objectivism about value is true -- that there really are states which are good for people regardless of whether they desire to be in them -- then we should accept a more rationalist liberal alternative. According to this alternative, what is required to decide which course is best is rational dialogue between physicians and patients, both about the patient's circumstances and her values, and not the seeking out of people, physicians or others, who share the same values. Rational discussion requires that physicians be reasonable and empathic. I describe one possible account of a reasonable physician.

MeSH terms

  • Coercion
  • Communication*
  • Decision Making*
  • Disclosure
  • Empathy
  • Ethical Theory
  • Ethics
  • Freedom
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Medicine*
  • Mental Competency
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Paternalism
  • Patient Care*
  • Patient Participation
  • Patients*
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Philosophy
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians*
  • Politics*
  • Professional Competence*
  • Social Values*
  • Specialization

Personal name as subject

  • John Rawls
  • Robert Veatch