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Nicholas Makins proposes that doctors should take a deferential attitude towards their patients’ preferences when making decisions, and this includes their risk attitudes.1 He grounds this proposal in the principles of autonomy and beneficence. Makins appears to hold autonomy as a good in and of itself, and so for him it follows that deferring to patients must also be good. He also seems to hold that the satisfaction of personal preferences inevitably leads to improved well-being, and so deferring to patients’ risk attitudes upholds the principle of beneficence.
Unfortunately, Makins explicitly avoids defining well-being. His account seems to ignore the possibility of an objective measure of health that could contravene patient preferences, and therefore, challenge a deferential approach. While it is true that medicine is replete with complex decisions and significant uncertainty which require value judgements to navigate, it is not true medicine is purely about satisfying preferences. Patient preferences should always guide clinical decisions, but it seems to me Makins is making the far stronger claim that a doctor should act as a substitute decision-maker of sorts, doing their best to make the decision as if they were the patient themselves. I would contend this is not a good idea, as it would clearly impact a doctor’s …
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests NG is a board member of the not-for-profit Prescription Justice Institute.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.