• Should doctors get to withhold information from patients?

    Before I get into the details, just answer that question. Should doctors be protected by law for withholding information from patients that their patients might want to know?

    Got your answer in your head? Here’s why:

    The Arizona Senate approved a bill Tuesday to shield doctors from “wrongful birth” lawsuits, which can arise if physicians don’t tell pregnant women of prenatal problems that could lead them to decide to have an abortion. The measure now goes to the House.

    Supporters of the bill will say, evidently, that no one should be held to blame if a baby is born with a disability. This, of course, is not correct in and of itself. There are many diagnosable conditions, in utero, that can sometimes be managed better if we know about them. There’s even fetal surgery these days. So even those parents who are the most anti-abortion might still want to do everything possible to improve the health of their yet-unborn child.

    But go back to my original question. This bill says that it’s ok for doctors to withhold information from their patients – information that their patients may want to know – in order to get them to do what the doctors want. That seems like a bad idea to me. Are you OK with doctors lying to you about your improving cholesterol so that you eat like they want you to? Are you ok with them lying to you about your sexual health because they don’t want you to engage in premarital sex? Are you OK with them lying to you about the risks of alcohol because they don’t approve of drinking?

    I seem to remember Americans getting upset at the idea of anyone, especially someone from the government, interfering with the relationship people have with their doctors.

    Evidently, this would make Arizona the ninth state to have such a law.

    UPDATE here.

    • I’ve seen elsewhere, without source, a claim that 12 states prohibit wrongful birth lawsuits:

      “The states that prohibit wrongful birth are Idaho, Utah, South Dakota, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia. The Supreme Court of Utah ruled that its law banning wrongful birth lawsuits was constitutional.”

    • My answer to the original question had some conditions. First, the question was general enough that I thought yes. Mostly because patients may want to know about other patients which I thought they didn’t have a right to know.

      However, restricting to information about that particular patient, I decided I couldn’t think of a reason why doctors would want to withhold information, so I said no.

      This law is a pretty complicated situation, which the way I confronted it helps to think about. For example, conservatives would say that the unborn baby is another person so that it fits my first explanation, but liberals say (as you did) that this only concerns the woman carrying the unborn baby.

      That being said, I think the doctors should give all the information they have in this situation. They shouldn’t deceive because they think it might prevent an abortion.

    • And then you have the states that require you to have so-called full information when you seek an abortion. Such as an ultra-sound, and as we know Virginia considered requiring a transvaginal ultra-sound. Even when the doctor and the patient agree this isn’t information, it’s state harassment.

    • On a completely different issue, I think that some people with certain cancers would be better off not knowing that they have cancer. perhaps , they can get that by refusing certain tests.

      One question is, is it possible for a Dr to disclose everything that he knows about the patient’s health to the patient?

    • As an outsider looking in, is it just me or do the parties that complain the most about state interference in private life also turn out to be the same parties that are most in favour of state interference in private life?

    • I think we need to tell patients what they might reasonably want to know. I think we get into gray areas when we have to deal with patients with anxiety disorders and limited mental capacities. Rather than force the truth upon them, sometimes we are probably doing the best for them by not telling them everything. It’s a tough line to walk.


    • I don’t see this so much about “doctor – patient relationship” as about the constitutional right to privacy. In this case, it is the right of the patient to make a choice about what is done, or not done to her body. Patient choice, not doctor choice. The doctor exists to provide information and possible guidance. Unless the patient is legally incompetent, the patient makes the choice.