Benevolent Deception

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A practice commonly used in the medical field, “benevolent deception” is the act of physicians suppressing information about diagnoses in hopes of not causing patients emotional turmoil (Skloot 63). Benevolent deception is a contentious subject because when used, the bioethical principles of respect for autonomy and beneficence can conflict with each other. Respect for autonomy is when physicians acknowledge their patients’ abilities to make voluntary decisions on their own regarding their health care (McCormick 4). Meanwhile, beneficence is the duty of doctors to be of a benefit to patients, while also taking measures to prevent and remove harm from them (McCormick 5). When giving patients diagnoses, physicians need to follow these doctrines by creating a balance between telling the truth and providing hope, which is why some may mistakenly turn to benevolent deception as the answer.

In most medical situations, benevolent deception is not permissible because the patients’ given right to autonomy is disrespected by doctors. The only time when this practice is justifiable is if it used as a “last resort”, i.e., during circumstances of crises where there are no alternatives to lying. This type of situation needs to be a life-threatening emergency with limited time available for a doctor to fully explain the diagnosis in a beneficent manner. Also, the reasons for deception must be to prevent psychological distress, and its execution must have a high chance of success so that the patient-doctor relationship will not suffer from a break in trust.

Overall, doctors should always strive to respect autonomy and provide beneficence when interacting with their patients. However, the majority of the time benevolent deception is used the p...

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...cal practice. Overall, physicians should not assume what they believe is best for their patients and should be truthful in relaying news about medical conditions, even though the diagnoses may be grave. Though the situation may look bleak, doctors need to take up the responsibility to be honest with their patients in order to honor the principle of respect for autonomy, and yet be beneficent by presenting a sense of realistic hope that treatment will succeed so that they will not easily give up on their chance of living. Only when there is a life-or-death emergency where there little time for the physician to react in both an autonomous and beneficent manner is when benevolent deception can be justified. In any other circumstances, the use of benevolent deception presents too many dangerous consequences that can negatively affect patients in a most devastating way.
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