Conflict over medical decisions

Submitted on Thursday March 5th, 2015
kate b reynolds hospice home

Frequently in serious illness, treatment decisions must be made quickly. It is not uncommon for relatives to have differing ideas about the best course. Some may feel their loved one should pursue aggressive treatments. Others may feel that therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy do not offer enough benefits given their negative effect on the limited time their family member may have.

It is medical custom for the physician to turn to the patient for a decision. Many cultures would agree with this protocol. However, many cultures consider treatment decisions a family matter. When relatives disagree about how the patient should proceed, or the patient feels differently than does the family, it might help everyone to examine their assumptions about treatment and illness. The more each understands the other's position, the easier it will be to communicate and to respect the final decision. Medical anthropology sheds insight into this process with the questions below. There are no "right" answers. These questions are simply a means to generate deeper understanding and appreciation for each person's point of view:

  • Who should be involved in decision making?
  • What do you think this illness does? What is its natural course?
  • Why do you think this illness or problem has occurred?
  • How do you think this condition should be treated?

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