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The absence of sadness: darker reflections on the doctor–patient relationship
  1. Philip A Berry
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr P A Berry
 31 Pentlow Street, Putney, London, SW15 1LX, UK; philaberry{at}


Recognising a diminution in his emotional response to patients’ deaths, the author analyses in detail his internal reactions in an attempt to understand what he believes is a common phenomenon among doctors. He identifies factors that may erode the connection between patient and physician: an instinct to separate oneself from another’s suffering, professional unease in the case of therapeutic failure, the atrophying effect of perceived hopelessness, insincerities in the establishment of the initial relationship, and an inability to imbue the sedated or unconscious patient with human qualities. He concludes that recognition of these negative influences, without necessarily changing behaviours that are natural, may be a first step towards protecting doctors against what might be an otherwise insidious process of dehumanisation.

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  • Competing interests: None declared.