Patients' health comes first

Doctors have an important public duty to relieve suffering and ailments.

Like Dr John Hui Keem Peng, I hope our next generation of doctors will be not only competent, but also doctors with empathy, compassion, patience, kindness and humility ("Provide positive work culture for young doctors"; Tuesday).

However, I disagree with the assertions made by Ms Jolene Tan, of the Association of Women for Action and Research, in her letter ("Judgmental attitudes towards sex can affect healthcare"; Thursday).

While a doctor should respect a patient's right to self-determination, a doctor has a duty, foremost, to the patient's health and well-being, not the patient's desires.

This means that the doctor must sometimes be the messenger of truth to warn the patient about the dangers of certain habits, lifestyles or patterns of behaviour that can be detrimental to her long-term well-being.

For example, casual sex and other forms of risky sexual activity increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

It is also unrealistic for doctors to leave their personal beliefs outside their consultation rooms while allowing patients to bring in theirs.

Instead, both patient and doctor must respectfully and compassionately listen to each other, and patiently explore the causes and consequences surrounding the proposed treatment.

Neither party needs to abandon their conscientious right to exercising their beliefs.

The ultimate informed choice of accepting or rejecting professional advice is not taken away from the patient.

Edmund Leong Meng Tsi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Patients' health comes first'. Print Edition | Subscribe