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Ethical problems with kindness in healthcare

Abstract

Kindness and its kindred concepts, compassion and empathy, are strongly valued in healthcare. But at the same time, health systems all too often treat people unfairly and cause harm. Is it possible that kindness actually contributes to these unkind outcomes? Here, I argue that, despite its attractive qualities, kindness can pose and perpetuate systemic problems in healthcare. By being discretionary, it can interfere with justice and non-maleficence. It can be problematic for autonomy too. Using the principalist lens allows us to visualise kindness more clearly and to dissect out its key qualities. Ideally, kindness should be not just beneficent but also respectful of the person, fair and non-maleficent. I use examples to illustrate the adverse impacts when kindness runs short on each. Finally, I propose that we can improve on this, by diversifying our approach to inclusion. Outgroups should be more included, as a way to mitigate discrimination wrought by discretionary kindness. But we can do better. Ingroup health professionals too often sit ‘above the fray’. They should also be more included, but now as research subjects, so we can understand together how they benefit from discretionary kindness and deftly make it work for them and theirs.

  • Ethics
  • Health Workforce
  • Ethics- Medical
  • Quality of Health Care

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