A Justifiable Asymmetry


Daniel Brudney and Mark Siegler


      It is a clinician’s cliché that a physician only challenges a patient’s capacity to make a treatment decision if that decision is not what the physician wants. Agreement is proof of decisional capacity; disagreement is proof or at least evidence of capacity’s absence. It is assumed that this asymmetry cannot be justified, that the asymmetry must be a form of physicians’ paternalism. Instead what is at issue when patient and physician disagree are usually two laudable impulses. The first is physicians’ commitment to patients’ well-being: physicians have a professional obligation as well as, ideally, a personal commitment to take care of patients—to do their best to bring about a positive medical outcome. The second impulse is common to much of human life, namely, the urge to find and to understand the source of our disagreements with one another. In this article we argue that, jointly, these impulses justify the asymmetry with regard to examining patients’ capacity.



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