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Are patients morally responsible for their errors?
  1. S Buetow1,
  2. G Elwyn2
  1. 1Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
  2. 2Centre for Health Sciences Research, Cardiff University, 56-57 Park Place, Cardiff, Wales
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr S Buetow
 Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand; s.buetow{at}auckland.ac.nz

Abstract

Amid neglect of patients’ contribution to error has been a failure to ask whether patients are morally responsible for their errors. This paper aims to help answer this question and so define a worthy response to the errors. Recent work on medical errors has emphasised system deficiencies and discouraged finding people to blame. We scrutinise this approach from an incompatibilist, agent causation position and draw on Hart’s taxonomy of four senses of moral responsibility: role responsibility; capacity responsibility; causal responsibility; and liability responsibility. Each sense is shown to contribute to an overall theoretical judgment as to whether patients are morally responsible for their errors (and success in avoiding them). Though how to weight the senses is unclear, patients appear to be morally responsible for the avoidable errors they make, contribute to or can influence.

  • patient
  • error
  • moral responsibility

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Footnotes

  • Sources of support: This research was made possible by the salary funding provided by ProCare Health Limited.

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