The language used to describe the practice of medicine and the metaphors employed to depict the relationship of patients and physicians establish conceptual boundaries for such discussions and affect the practices themselves. My colleague, James Gustafson, PhD, made a similar point recently:
How the medical staff or the ethician describes persons and their relations to each other [ie, whether as "... individual contractors or persons in patterns and processes of interdependence..."] is a matter of critical judgment. The alternative descriptions back alternative ways of construing the moral situation. How that situation is construed confines or enlarges the morally relevant features to be taken into account in patient care [unpublished work, 1984].
In recent years, medical practice has been regarded (at least by most medical ethicists and by lawyers) primarily as an impersonal encounter between two isolated and autonomous persons—the patient and the physician—whose individual interests were to be rigorously protected
Siegler M. The Progression of Medicine: From Physician Paternalism to Patient Autonomy to Bureaucratic Parsimony. Arch Intern Med. 1985;145(4):713–715. doi:10.1001/archinte.1985.00360040147031
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