Ten Miles Square


March 09, 2012 1:53 PM Should Doctors Get to Withhold Information from Patients?

By Aaron Carroll

Before I get into the details, just answer that question. Should doctors be protected by law for withholding information from patients that their patients might want to know?

Got your answer in your head? Here’s why:

The Arizona Senate approved a bill Tuesday to shield doctors from “wrongful birth” lawsuits, which can arise if physicians don’t tell pregnant women of prenatal problems that could lead them to decide to have an abortion. The measure now goes to the House.

Supporters of the bill will say, evidently, that no one should be held to blame if a baby is born with a disability. This, of course, is not correct in and of itself. There are many diagnosable conditions, in utero, that can sometimes be managed better if we know about them. There’s even fetal surgery these days. So even those parents who are the most anti-abortion might still want to do everything possible to improve the health of their yet-unborn child.

But go back to my original question. This bill says that it’s ok for doctors to withhold information from their patients – information that their patients may want to know – in order to get them to do what the doctors want. That seems like a bad idea to me. Are you OK with doctors lying to you about your improving cholesterol so that you eat like they want you to? Are you ok with them lying to you about your sexual health because they don’t want you to engage in premarital sex? Are you OK with them lying to you about the risks of alcohol because they don’t approve of drinking?

I seem to remember Americans getting upset at the idea of anyone, especially someone from the government, interfering with the relationship people have with their doctors.

Evidently, this would make Arizona the ninth state to have such a law.

[Cross-posted at The Incidental Economist]

Aaron Carroll ,MD, is an associate professor of Pediatrics and the associate director of Children’s Health Services Research at Indiana University School of Medicine.


  • Texas Aggie on March 10, 2012 11:58 PM:

    "I seem to remember Americans getting upset at the idea of anyone, especially someone from the government, interfering with the relationship people have with their doctors."

    You've been misinformed. The people who were so bent out of shape about interference between a doctor and a patient weren't really Americans because they weren't bright enough to realize that the government was not, in fact, interfering with their relationship with their doctor. They accepted uncritically the talking point given to them by their masters and went with it. Americans don't do that.

    They fit the definition of being an American on a technicality by accident of birth. They lacked the American spirit to also be upset about insurance companies coming between a doctor and a patient. And in this case, they have no problems with some Calvinistic blowhard coming between the patient and the doctor. A real American would be upset in any case where a nonmedical person interfered in the doctor/patient relationship.

  • SeaLaughing on November 29, 2012 2:09 AM:

    Thanks for the heads up, Texas Aggie. I was unaware the voters of this country had passed a measure making you the chief dictator who determines the definition of being an American.

    So, if we don't get upset about the same thing YOU are upset about, then we're not Americans? How about people who fought an died for this country? Are they allowed to hold their own opinion, without you telling them what to think? My ancestor fought in the American Revolution, so I could claim that you're not a true American because it's unlikely you're SAR. I'm part Cherokee, so I could declare you 'UnAmerican' if you don't have Native American blood.

    I find it interesting that you denigrate others who supposedly blindly follow 'their masters' while you, yourself, are telling the rest of us what to do, feel and think. This is one reason I've become suspicious of anyone declaring themselves a Patriot: usually, these people are self-righteous hypocrites who are all talk and no action.

    Your statement makes it clear that you believe yourself to be smarter than everyone else. If that was true, then you'd be able to see that you're the one talking stupid.