This essay will define the meaning of the paternalism - with specific regard as to how it affects relationships between health care professionals and patients. The importance played by Parsons’ Sick Role (1951) in defining paternalistic attitudes will be discussed, and the essay will examine how these attitudes have evolved. Events such as the Alder Hey inquiry, and government legislature will be shown to have changed paternalistic attitudes within our health care system, and the accessibility of information leading to more educated patients will also be shown to have done so.
To understand the concept of paternalism between health care professionals and patients, one must first understand the literal meaning of the word ‘paternalism’. According to Princeton University (cited on-line by
Dictionary.com 2006), paternalism is the attitude of a person or governing authority that subordinates should be treated in a fatherly way for their own best interests. Linking this definition to health care, this can be viewed as traditional style paternalism - the ‘doctor knows best’ attitude. Ward (2001) gives an example of this during a personal recollection as a house officer in the 1960’s. He talks of a consultant leading a ward round with several house officers; a patients’ case would be talked about around the bedside without any opportunity offered for the patient to present his own views. During this era, patient trust in health care professionals was very high.
In 1951, Talcott Parsons developed a theory called the Sick Role (cited by Maguire 2006). In this theory, Parsons describes the Sick Role as a temporary form of deviant behaviour. This leads him to see the doctor/ patient relationship as alike to that of a father/child, because in order to be excused from their usual duties, the person in the Sick Role is expected to seek the aid of a doctor, and to conform to the recommended treatments. The doctor is in a position of power...