Decisions and Dishonesty in Medicine

[This is the seventh post in a series highlighting a public dialogue held at the University of Alberta on October 23rd, 2008, titled The Modern Pursuit of Human Perfection: Defining Who is Worthy of Life. The dialogue was sponsored by the What Sorts Network, in conjunction with the Canadian Association for Community Living and the Alberta Association for Community Living. This series will bring forward the videos made of this event twice a week, roughly every Wednesday and Saturday–this one, since it’s brief, is a freebie! For further context, please see the introductory post in the series, which can be found here; we’ll string together all posts in this series when we have most / all of them up, or you can search by the category “Modern Pursuit” to get those already posted.]

Here Dick Sobsey gives some brief reflections on the panel presentations from Wendy, Sam, and Colleen that focus on parental autonomy, decision-making, and medical guidance. Parents believe that they have the right to make decisions about their present and future children, and that they do in fact have that right is part of the medical norm, as Simo Vehmas noted in his recent reflections here. But are they in fact given a real choice here? The stories we’ve heard so far, suggest some of the constraints on these choices. Maybe some of you have other stories or opinions to share? A transcript of the video follows the cut.


Dick Sobsey: One of the things to me that is most troubling that I heard as a theme through this is sort of giving people the, giving people decisions to make, but then if they don’t make the decision that you want them to make, to then admit that it’s not really their decision to make in the first place. And I think that kind of dishonesty in the system is particularly problematic. And so we heard through Wendy, we heard from Sam, and I think through Colleen’s story too, that people are being asked to make decisions about their lives and about their children’s lives and they’re being slightly encouraged to make a certain decision. And if they make that decision, then they’re left with the impression that they actually had control of the decision. So, you know the parent who says “you know, you’re right, I don’t want the surgery” believes that they’re the one that actually made the decision. The parent that says “yes, I do want the surgery” and then is told “it’s not your decision to make” then is the only one who realizes then that it wasn’t their decision to make before. And a particular aspect of the cruelty of that is not only are many parents left wondering after they make a decision to not complete a pregnancy, to not have the surgery that would save their child’s life, they’re left feeling guilty that they made the decision that they didn’t really feel comfortable with and never in fact realize that in fact it wasn’t their decision, that they were manipulated into that decision.

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