Testing the Medical Covenant: Caring for Patients with Advanced Dementia

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 40 (1):45-50 (2012)
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A word, first, about the religious sensibility that I have found helpful to describe the care professionals owe to dying patients, particularly patients with advanced dementia.That word is covenant. It is a biblical term; but, today, it covers such dubious devices as real estate covenants. A real estate covenant often operates below the moral level of a contract to wall some people out of a neighborhood. Classically understood, however, the word covenant helps probe the obligations of doctors to their patients more deeply than the notion of a contract. Covenants of the sort I have in mind and contracts appear to be first cousins; they both include an agreement and an exchange between parties. But, in spirit, contracts and covenants differ markedly. Contracts are external; covenants are internal to the parties involved. We sign contracts in order to discharge them expediently. Contracts are limited and time-bound — whether a contract to fix plumbing or to charge such and such for a medical procedure.



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