Patient’s Rights – Where do they start and where to they end?
What are our obligations to the patient? Keep in mind that autonomy only works with people who have the capacity to make their own decisions.
Here are some of the patients’ rights that come with using autonomy:
• Patients have the right to receive all the information they need to make a good decision.
• Patients have the right to make their own decisions.
• Patients have the right to refuse treatments they do not want.
• Patients do not have the right to demand treatments that will be medically ineffective or are medically inappropriate for their condition.
It is important to realize that there are limits to a patient’s rights. A patient is limited to asking only for treatments that will benefit her. This limitation makes sense. It would be pointless, and potentially harmful, to provide a treatment or medication that would not improve the patient’s condition. So, as a physician, you are able to say no to practicing bad medicine. If what the patient or decision maker is requesting would be inappropriate or non-beneficial you can say no and protect the patient. But if it is a medically valid option, even when you disagree with what the person wants because you think they are being foolish or it isn’t the best option to choose, we have to respect that it is the patient’s body and life.
I know this can be difficult as you watch people making foolish choices. But that is autonomy. All of us, including you, are allowed to make the decisions that make sense in the context of one’s own life. (Of course, there are different boundaries in pediatrics.)
One technique I use with patients is to say, “Here is the ideal plan. Now let’s talk about your plan.” That allows the two of you to partner together to build a plan, although it might not be ideal, it is something the patient is willing to consider and to try. And then perhaps in the future, the patient will be willing to consider the other options you would like him or her to try.
Have a kind and respectful day.