Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

Patients we don’t like

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 19 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3956
  1. Daniel K Sokol, senior lecturer in medical ethics and law, King’s College London, and practising barrister
  1. daniel.sokol{at}

Doctors should not let their moral evaluations of patients affect their treatment

A few months ago I represented a man who had been involved in a road crash. Shortly before the trial we discussed—in private—what had happened on that day.

During the trial, it became evident that under cross examination my client was lying. There was video footage to confirm it. He had also breached my trust and lied to me repeatedly. Not a white lie, or a slight inaccuracy, but whopping great untruths. With each passing minute, as his credibility floundered, my resolve to win the case weakened. I grew emotionally more distant from my client. By the end of the cross examination I was filled with a profound dislike for him. It was an unsettling experience.

The trial was not over. In my closing submissions I still had to persuade the judge that my client was not negligent.

Similar situations arise in medicine. …

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