Patients' rights upheld

The Senate has ratified an agreement drawn up by the Council of Europe that lists the rights of patients. But the decision was reached only after a very heated debate. While senators had no qualms over regulations including a ban on cloning human beings, ethical standards in medical research and a number of other issues, they felt that Czech society was not ready for the right of patients to be fully informed on the state of their health. One of those who backed the agreement in full was Jaroslava Moserova, herself a medical doctor. Olga Szantova asked her why the right of patients to receive information was so controversial:

Jaroslava Moserova: You see, it is the custom in this country not to tell the patient that he has a malignant tumor, that he has cancer. His family is told. The doctor doesn't know anything about the family relationships, yet he tells the family without telling the patient and the result is that patients know that where tumors are concerned, the doctors don't tell the truth. Thus the paradoxical situation arises very often that a patient is told that he has a benign tumor and he does not believe the doctor, because he knows it is the custom for the doctor not to tell the truth where tumors are concerned.

Radio Prague: In other illnesses as well, or only in cancer?

JM: Well, in other illnesses, I think that the doctors did not communicate enough with the patients. But I am being told, though I am no longer working in the medical field, as you know, that this is improving very quickly.

RP: Why are our doctors so reluctant to inform the patient?

JM: Because they argue that it would break him, that he could not bear the burden of knowing that his days may be numbered. But this is also silly, because then a mysterium builds up around cancer. Cancer is something that ... I don't even like to say the word in Czech, because I have been indoctrinated by this practice for many years.

RP: So many of our doctors have contacts with their colleagues abroad and they know the situation in other countries is different. Doesn't that make them stop and think?

JM: Yes, many of them, mainly the young ones. I think there is no problem with the young ones. But the older doctors, who did this for years, for decades, who were used to not telling the patient, but telling the next of kin, they find it hard to get over it. They didn't learn the art of how to tell the patient in a way which would give him hope.

RP: Senator Moserova, the agreement was passed by the Senate, which means that it will now be in accordance with the law to have to tell the patient. How do you think this will be accepted?

JM: It will be accepted, because, as I told you, the young ones already accept it and the older ones will have to learn. It requires not only informing the medical profession, but also the public and I hope that this part of the agreement will improve the relationship between the doctor and the patient.

Author: Olga Szantová
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