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Technical expertise as an ethical form: towards an ethics of distance.
  1. M Girard

    Abstract

    The present article proceeds from the observation that the therapeutic relationship is basically unequal. This inequality essentially concerns the respective situation of the patient and his or her doctor vis-à-vis medical knowledge. A strict professionalism guarantees that this inequality remains factual and without essential value. Yet, if both partners unreflectively allow affectivity excessively to intrude into their relationship, their behaviour may then be inspired by subconscious, rather than rational, motives. In that case, the unverifiable allegations of philanthropy or paternalism may be used to rationalise a kind of 'medical sadism' which attempts to justify the will to humiliate the patient by means of the constraints inherent in medical care. The concept of ethical form is introduced as a non-verbal criterion of ethical reliability. It is mainly a way of training the will through the application of rationally justified rules of behaviour. In this context, it is suggested that an effort to remain constantly within the limits of professionalism represents a method of training for the achievement of some degree of ethical credibility in the therapeutic relationship. In the long term, such abstinence could constitute a sort of catharsis, and thereby help to reveal the non-rational motives in medical behaviour. Contrary to the belief prevailing in modern society, the established limits of medical knowledge are not so broad. The application of these limits would probably be the best method of preventing emotions from interfering undesirably in the therapeutic relationship.

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