Towards Defining Paternalism in Medicine

It is 1804. A physician peers over the rims of his spectacles at his patient. She says, “Doctor, I don’t want to die. Please tell me what to do.” He replies, “Mrs. Smith, we will treat your illness with these leeches, which will cleanse your blood of the disease. That, combined with cold water dousing each night, will cure you.”

In Southern California 2 hundred years later, a cancer patient says, “Doctor, I don’t want to die. I’ve heard about a new experimental treatment being tested at Stanford, and I want to enroll in their study. If that doesn’t work, then I want to get my nutritionist and a herbalist involved.”