Bioethics Discussion Blog: Making Clinical Ethical Decisions: Common Fallacies: 2. Argumentum ad populum

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Making Clinical Ethical Decisions: Common Fallacies: 2. Argumentum ad populum

Fallacy #2 is argumentum ad populum: to sway the decision of others by appealing to sentimentality rather than reasons based upon facts. One obvious example of such a fallacy is the recent popular turmoil regarding the jury decision in the trial of Casey Anthony finding her innocent of murder and other possible felonies related to the death of her lovely child. It was the death of the little child and descriptions of the mother's behavior that led to the conclusions of a host of the public that the jury made a mistake and that Casey Anthony was really guilty. Yet, as the jury understood, the facts did not fully speak to or prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that the mother was guilty and so withstood turning to the argumentum ad populum decision.

In medicine, often the concern about the public's sentimentality associated with a popular person in need of an organ transplant, for example a movie star or sports personality, might suggest to some that the early receipt of a life-saving organ was directly related to such sentimentality. It is not generally proven that this is the case, but, nevertheless this may be a consideration by some.

It is hard, particularly in dealing with significant illness or disability in a child to avoid sentimentality and prevent this from dominating the decision by parents or even nurses or physicians regarding medical management. Sometimes sentimentality dominates the discussion over the known objective findings or statistical probabilities.

The obvious problem that occurs when sentimentality arrives at the medical ethics decision table is that those "who care" (use sentimentality) may attack those who are trying to be objective as possibly "uncaring". Unfortunately, those who define themselves as "caring" may not realize or have forgotten that caring also involves deciding with regard to the best interest of the patient and often what is in the best interest doesn't always depend on sentimentality but the realistic facts.

What role has sentimentality played in medical decisions of which you are aware? ..Maurice.

1 Comments:

At Wednesday, July 27, 2011 11:14:00 AM, Blogger Ronn said...

Excellent observations, Maurice. I see this dilemma often occurring between nurses and physicians in emotionally layered cases in the ICU.

There is an important place for sentimentality in these cases, however, and that is maximizing clinician empathy for the experience(s) of the family members and friends at the bedside.

Listening to the hopes & wishes of patients and surrogates shouldn't supercede professional judgment and best interest considerations. Nor should the latter be the justification for giving short shrift to the former.

 

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