The two sides to the debate:
“If doctors are misled by compassion, then perhaps they ought to be tolerated for their compassion and excused for their mistakes, unless they are totally irresponsible,” he [Bernard Dickens] said.
“He didn’t keep to the rules, but when there is no alternative, then simple, therapeutic innovation can be tolerated, even when it is proven that it is not effective.”
Other ethicists disagreed with Prof. Dickens. They said it is wrong for doctors to hold out false hope to their patients, or provide treatment outside practice guidelines without seeking clearance.
“Otherwise, you get a kind of chaos or anarchy, and more patients are likely to be harmed than helped,” said Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.
Prof. Schafer also criticized Dr. Katakkar’s contention that he had a moral obligation to provide hope to his patient. “Boy, do I think that’s wrong-headed,” he said. “In fact, a doctor’s moral obligation is not to give a patient false hope.”
Part of the challenge, particularly for patients and their families, is letting go and accepting that this may be the end. Experimental treatments, or clinical trials for that matter, are often more about learning what may work and expanding treatment options, than helping the individuals enrolled in them.