Philosophy 318: Professional Ethics
Theodore Gracyk

Outline of Robinson ruling

WARNING: Explanations in this outline are systematically changed to remove the focus on medicine and pharmacists.

Given that adults of sound mind have a right (minimally) to control their own bodies and what happens to it, and given that "true choice" is an informed choice, and given that the average person does not understand the complexities of areas that are under the care of the professions,

it follows that professionals have a positive duty to make reasonable disclosure of the choices available to deal with a situation.

Action taken by a professional without client consent can be a criminal act, e.g., a doctor who undertakes therapy without patient consent is guilty of battery.

But consent requires knowledge of options.

Problem: Each case is unique. Without guidance about disclosure, professionals may ignore a client's options simply because the professional thinks they are bad choices, but this can be mere personal opinion.  (Professional opinion ≠ personal opinion)

Customary levels of disclosure are a bad way to set the standard, since that simply endorses existing prejudice.

Because the duty to disclose is based on a client's right to consent, the professional must disclose "enough information to enable an intelligent choice."

Risks must be identified and made known to client.

There are two exceptions to the positive duty.

  1. Harm is imminent and it is impossible to convey the information in time (e.g., a medical patient is unconsious).

  2. The disclosure will reveal information that will result in serious harm to the client (e.g., severe distress or psychological damage).

One cannot withhold information about a risk based on the expectation that the client's aversion to risk will lead client to reject a choice that the professional favors.

In the two exceptions, professional should seek consent of a close relative.


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            Last updated May 18, 2015