Philosophy Compass 9 (3):194-203 (2014)

Daniel Groll
Carleton College
Medical clinicians – doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners etc. – are charged to act for the good of their patients. But not all ways of acting for a patient's good are on par: some are paternalistic; others are not. What does it mean to act paternalistically, both in general and specifically in a medical context? And when, if ever, is it permissible for a clinician to act paternalistically? This paper deals with the first question, with a special focus on paternalism in medicine. While it is easy to give a rough characterization of paternalism (i.e. acting for another's good against that person's will), it is surprisingly difficult to provide a unified account of the myriad of actions that seem to count as paternalistic. After surveying four accounts of paternalism, I argue that two – what I call the authority and beneficence accounts – are the strongest on offer. According to the authority account, a clinician acts paternalistically when, for her patient's good, she usurps his decision-making authority. According to the beneficence account, a clinician acts paternalistically when, for her patient's good, she acts only or overrindingly out of concern for his good. I show how the difference between these accounts matters (in part) for how we should think about the nature of surrogate decision making in medicine. I argue that there are reasons – albeit hardly decisive – to prefer the beneficence account to the authority account. I conclude by considering whether attempts by clinicians to rationally persuade their patients to pursue a particular course of action should be thought of as paternalistic.
Keywords paternalism  autonomy  beneficence  authority  competency  medical ethics
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DOI 10.1111/phc3.12111
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References found in this work BETA

Principles of Biomedical Ethics.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1979 - Oxford University Press.
The Theory and Practice of Autonomy.Gerald Dworkin - 1988 - Cambridge University Press.
The Morality of Freedom.Joseph Raz - 1986 - Philosophy 63 (243):119-122.
The Theory and Practice of Autonomy.Gerald Dworkin - 1988 - Philosophy 64 (250):571-572.

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