Chapter 6: Rights, Truth and Consent

Section 4. Readings:  Berkich on Lipkin

Outline by  Don Berkich,  University of Texas, Corpus Christi (by permission)

B. Lipkin, Mark. "On Telling Patients the Truth". Newsweek, 4 June 1979, p.13.

The issue of paternalism in medicine is most dramatic in cases of truth-telling. As the cases in the first set of notes indicate, truth-telling sometimes poses surprisingly complicated problems for medical professionals.

Lipkin takes the position that it is perfectly morally permissible for a medical professional to refrain from telling a patient or client the truth.

It is easy, of course, to suspect that Lipkin's position on truth-telling is untenable, and perhaps it is. But it is worth pointing out that surprisingly many medical professionals--physicians, especially--share Lipkin's view. It is also important to realize that we cannot reject Lipkin's position on truth-telling until we have shown his arguments unsound. Note that this is all we must do, since, if Dworkin is correct, Lipkin bears the burden of proof.

Lipkin presents three substantive arguments for the thesis that physicians need not always tell the truth. The first, the Practical Impossibility Argument, turns on the (true) proposition that we cannot be morally obligated to do that which we are not able to do. The problem, however, is Lipkin's argument that physicians are unable to tell the truth.

The Irrational Patient and Placebo Arguments are equally defective, although I leave it to you to determine the false premises.

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Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2002. All Rights reserved.

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