Outline by Don
Berkich, University of Texas, Corpus Christi
(by permission)
The Practical Impossibility Argument:







1

In hearing bad news patients
are often anxious and hear selectively.



2

Patients are usually ignorant
of medicine.



3

Diagnoses and Prognoses are
often less than certain.



4

If [1, 2 and 3] then it is a
practical impossibility to tell patients the truth, the whole
truth, and nothing but the truth.


Therefore

5

It is a practical
impossibility to tell patients the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth.

1,2,3&4


6

If it is a practical
impossibility to tell patients the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth, then it is morally permissible for
physicians to not tell the truth.


Therefore

7

It is morally permissible for
physicians to not tell the truth.

5&6

An Argument for Premise (6):







1

If agent X has a moral
obligation to perform action A, then it is possible for X to
perform A.



2

It is a practical
impossibility to tell patients the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth.



3

If it is a practical
impossibility to tell patients the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth, then it is not possible for a physician
to tell the truth.


Therefore

4

It is not possible for a
physician to tell the truth.

2&3

Therefore

5

A physician does not have an
obligation to tell the truth.

1&4


6

If a physician does not have
an obligation to tell the truth, then it is morally permissible
for physicians to not tell the truth.


Therefore

7

It is morally permissible for
physicians to not tell the truth.

5&6

Therefore

8

If it is a practical
impossibility to tell patients the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth, then it is morally permissible for
physicians to not tell the truth.

2&7

The idea here is very simply that one cannot be morally obligated to
do what one is incapable of doing. Since physicians are incapable of
telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it
follows that physicians cannot be morally obligated to tell the
truth.
The worrisome premise is (3). To say that something is a practical
impossibility is to say anything from its inconvenient to it cannot
be done to any reasonable degree. But surely we cannot conclude from
this that it is impossible, simpliciter, for physicians to
tell the truth.
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© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2002. All Rights
reserved.
Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended
to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read
as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution. 