Chapter 6: Rights, Truth and Consent

Section 4. Readings: Berkich Practical Impossibility

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.

Proceed to the READINGS section of the chapter by clicking here> section.

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.

Return to:                 Table of Contents for the Online  Textbook