‘The right not to know and the obligation to know’, response to commentaries

Journal of Medical Ethics 46 (5):309-310 (2020)
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Abstract
I am grateful for these four incisive commentaries on my paper, ‘The right not to know and the obligation to know’ and regret that I cannot address every point made in these challenging responses to my work. Benjamin Berkman1 worries that I conflate medical information with medical action. I argue that patients sometimes have obligations to receive information, since medical decisions made with incomplete information may generate higher costs. As Berkman notes, though, information is no guarantee of action, and it is patients’ actions which will affect their health. Yet, he points out, I explicitly deny that patients should be ‘forced into a particular action’. I acknowledge a missed opportunity to explicitly discuss the relationship between information and action. Still, Berkman’s discussion itself conflates two important ideas. As I argue, my having an obligation does not entail a permission for others to enforce that obligation. I do think patients sometimes have obligations to make certain health-related choices, specifically when this will not involve significant sacrifices of other values and will reduce future healthcare costs, but this does not mean anyone can legitimately force them to do so. Importantly, the obligation to be informed does not depend on your being in this position. If you face a reasonable chance of having a specific obligation, …
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Archival date: 2020-06-26
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