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Sophia: An African Journal of Philosophy

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Revaluating Fletcher’s situation ethics within the confines of truthfulness in medical ethics

K. Ariche Chrisantus, Ephraim Ahamefula Ikegbu

Abstract


All medical interventions are patient-centered. It is the patient who is the focal point of all medical interventions. The patient is a person in need of medical help and care. He is at the mercy of the medical personnel, and finds himself in a vulnerable and emotional state. He concentrates on the subjective experience of his sickness or illness, whereas the physician may be concerned with the disease. In this situation of the patient and the physician a question arises: Does the physician have the duty to tell his/her patient the truth and nothing but the truth in any and all situations? Another question that may come up is, is the right to know the truth absolute? In recent past, many physicians worry about the harmful effects of disclosing information about a patient‟s health condition. As a result of this they hide the truth from the patient relying on situation ethics. They argue that the patient's right to the truth depends on the situation of his/her health condition. Based on this, they give information as much as they judge the patient can sustain. While we understand their point, we want to state also that appropriate sensitivity and tact will remove the possibility of such fear. Fletcher in his situation ethics argues that every actual situation of moral choice is almost completely unique. It is the content of the action which determines the “right” action. Fletcher is of the opinion that the patient's right to the truth is not absolute. In this work we made a critique of Fletcher's situation ethics with a view to stating that it is morally wrong for the physician to deny the patient the truth about his/her health condition. The patient must not be denied the truth about his health condition no matter the situation except he/she chooses not to be told. For the physician to withhold the truth from the patient, is to destroy the mutual respect and trust that exist between the patient and the physician in medical practice.

Keywords: Situation Ethics; Physician; Truthfulness; Medical Ethics; Patient




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