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date: 26 September 2018

Summary and Keywords

The medical encounter is one of the most important channels of communication between the patient and his or her caretaker. Apart from its therapeutic effect, the medical encounter serves to convey information about a symptom or disease; construct a diagnosis and give information about the expected course of a disease (“prognosis”); and discuss treatment plans, including risks and benefits. The centrality of the medical encounter makes ethical considerations fundamental, not only within the clinical context but also within the broader context of health promotion. Furthermore, since the medical encounter is characterized by asymmetry and dependence, it can create problems of abuse of power or subordination. The current dominant liberal bioethical approach tends not to take into account the power relations within the medical encounter, or the social context in which the medical encounter takes place. It is in this sense that a republican egalitarian approach to bioethics can be of use. Instead of traditional bioethics emphasis on the individual and on personal autonomy, a radical egalitarian health rights approach will stress the importance of social structures, and the need for a different institutional framework that works toward making a universal right to health possible. Such an approach also emphasizes the centrality of politics in building adequate institutions and in modifying those social structures that cause inequities in health. These considerations have important consequences on how the medical encounter should be constructed, such as in the case of conveying risk and disclosing medical errors.

Keywords: apologies, bioethics, medical encounter, medical errors, republican egalitarianism

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