"Since my diagnosis, I had been immersed in a crash course in real-world medical ethics," writes Rebecca Dresser, editor of Malignant: Medical Ethicists Confront Cancer, published by Oxford University Press. She and five other bioethicists discuss their personal experiences with cancer or caring for loved ones with the disease, with lessons for doctors and nurses, patients, and caregivers.
Dresser, the Daniel Noyes Kirby Professor of Law and Professor of Ethics in Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, and most of the other authors are Hastings Center Fellows.
The writers explore the many ways that their experiences made them reassess their views on bioethics issues, including respect for patient autonomy, doctor-patient decision-making, and the need to avoid unnecessary care. Shared decision-making, for example, long advocated by bioethicists, proved difficult in practice for Dresser and Dan W. Brock, a Hastings Center Fellow and the Frances Glessner Lee Professor of Medicine Ethics in the Department of Social Medicine and director of the Division of Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School.
"Shared decision-making assigns more responsibility to patients, and that responsibility can be hard for patients to handle," writes Brock, adding that "medical and treatment advances often end up increasing the complexity of those decisions." While not advocating for a return to "the old days of paternalism," Brock appeals to doctors to do more than explain treatment options to patients, but also to help them understand the ways that different treatments could affect their well-being, values, and plans for the future.