Benedict XVI Calls Doctors to Bedside Manners

Says Professional-Patient Relationship Is Key

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 20, 2008 ( Benedict XVI is calling for a focus on recovering better relationships between doctors and their patients, saying that this is key for humanizing medicine.

The Pope affirmed this today during an audience given to members of the Italian Society of Surgery, which is having its 110th international conference.

Doctor-patient communication should be the base for an «authentic therapeutic alliance with the patient» that permits defining the strategy to be used for the illness,» he said.

The Pontiff affirmed that a doctor can do more for his patient if a good relationship is developed: «He can motivate the patient, sustain him, inspire him, and even maximize his physical and mental strength, or, on the contrary, he can weaken him and frustrate his strengths, thus reducing the very efficacy of the treatment given.»

What should distinguish a doctor, the Holy Father contended, are «those human qualities that, beyond professional competence in the strict sense, make the patient value him.» A sick person should not be considered an antagonist, he added, but rather an «active and responsible collaborator in the therapeutic treatment,» though «respecting his self-determination.»

The ill, Benedict XVI continued, «want to be seen with benevolence, not just examined; they want to be listened to, not just exposed to sophisticated diagnoses; they want to perceive with certainty that they are present in the mind and the heart of the doctor who heals them.»

The Pope acknowledged that the autonomy of the patient must be respected, but he said that «the professional responsibility of the doctor should bring him to propose treatments that look to the true good of the patient, aware that his specific competence generally puts him in a place to better evaluate the situation.»

This relationship is so important, the Holy Father explained, that one has to «view with suspicion any attempt to meddle in it from the outside.»

Referring to the theme chosen by the surgeons for their conference — «For a Surgery That Respects the Ill» — the Pope explained that the foundation of medicine should always be «respect for human dignity. In fact, it demands the unconditional respect of every human being, born or unborn, healthy or sick, regardless of the condition in which they find themselves.»

Better but worse

Benedict XVI noted that medicine has evolved such that, «while in the past it was limited to relieving,» today it «is capable of healing.»

But, he said, this implies a risk: That of «abandoning the patient when it is seen that a noticeable result cannot be obtained.»

Another risk, the Pontiff said, is that of making the patient into a thing, submitting him to «rules and practices that are often foreign to his way of being,» in the name of «the demands of science, technology and the health care organization.»

It is necessary, then, to have three objectives present in the exercise of medicine, the Pope said: «Heal the ill person or at least try to efficiently intervene in the progression of the illness; relieve the painful symptoms that accompany the sickness, especially when it is in an advanced stage; and care for the ill person in all of his human hopes.»

«Even when there is no possibility of healing, much can still be done for the sick,» the Bishop of Rome affirmed. «His suffering can be relieved, above all [by] accompanying him in his journey, bettering as much as possible his condition of life.

«Every patient, even the gravely ill one, has an unconditional value, a dignity worthy of being honored.»

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