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Is it ethical to use persuasion within medical practice?

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Physicians and caretakers are often faced with difficult dilemmas that require assisting patients and families to choose a specific course of action. Few environments are as demanding on the professional relationship as within medicine; treatment plans, end-of-life decisions and day-to-day recommendations balance risks with the patient’s best interests. Especially in the medical field, providers’ recommendations must maintain ethical standards. Ethical is defined at Dictionary.com (n.d.) as: “being in accordance with the rules or standards for right conduct or practice, esp. the standards of a profession”.

While persuasion is often used for beneficial or malefic purposes, as a method in itself it is amoral. However, given the responsibility of the vulnerable patient-doctor relationship, it is necessary to remain ethical and to avoid manipulation. Willingness to keep the patient’s best interests at heart helps create persuasive reasoning that is not only effective but also ethical. The key to ethical persuasion is motivation. Someone may persuade people to vote, knowing that citizens that are active in the selection of their representation will be happier than those who passively tolerate the rules and laws placed upon them. This persuasion has the audience’s well-being at heart, and would therefore be considered ethical. However, if the same person used strong-arm tactics, deception or manipulation to force people to vote for the persuader’s candidate, it would be unethical.

Persuasion can be ethical if all the facts, the pros and cons, are honestly presented. Persuasion is imperative, potentially leading to many beneficial ends, when it is done ethically. Ethical practitioners inform patients of the benefits of a treatment, prescription, surgery, or an action so that the patient can recognize just how well the idea, option or action will satisfy their need. Through ethical persuasion, patients should be able to face their fears and uncertainty in order to consent to the best options while staying fully informed of possible negative aspects of the course of action. By appealing to both the logical and emotional factors, the patient may be reasonably motivated to make the best choice.

For example: a pediatrician may persuade a parent to have their child receive a new vaccination. If the doctor maintains an audience-centered approach, keeping in mind the benefits to the child, this would be ethical conduct, following the standards of the profession. However, if the doctor did not fully disclose the risks of an elective procedure or vaccination, instead pressuring the parent with the intention of boosting their own treatment statistics, this would be unethical (and potentially illegal) behavior that is not within the standard of the profession. “To maintain the highest standards of business ethics, make every attempt to persuade without manipulating (Thill & Bovée, 2007, p. 308).”

References:

Ethical. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved September 14, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ethical

Thill, J. V. & Bovée, C. L. (2007). Excellence in Business Communication (7th Edition). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

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