Doctor-patient relationship: from medical paternalism to enhanced autonomy

Singapore Med J. 2002 Mar;43(3):152-5.


For centuries, physicians have been allowed to interfere and overrule patient's preferences with the aim of securing patient benefit or preventing harm. With the radical rise in emphasis on individual control and freedom, medical paternalism no longer receives unquestioned acceptance by society as the dominant mode for decision-making in health care. But neither is a decision-making approach based on absolute patient autonomy a satisfactory one. A more ethical and effective approach is to enhance a patient's autonomy by advocating a medical beneficence that incorporates patients' values and perspectives. This can be achieved through a model for shared decision making, acknowledging that though the final choices reside ultimately in patients, only through physician beneficence can the patient be empowered to make meaningful decisions that serve them best. For such a model to function effectively, the restoration of trust in doctor-patient relationship and the adoption of patient-centred communication are both crucial.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Paternalism*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Professional Autonomy*