Cholesterol and Patient Autonomy

Within contemporary medical discourse, the two most important ethical axioms are “choice” and “patient autonomy.” Even with issues that we might expect to be animated by broader ethical considerations–for example, life and death issues like abortion and euthanasia–there is a large body of thought which truncates discourse on these questions to “choice” and “patient autonomy.”

This being the case, I want to know why the principles of choice and patient autonomy are thrown out the window when it comes to needing to take statin drugs to lower cholesterol. In particular, when doctors tell their patients that they need to take statins to lower cholesterol, are they also letting their patients know that there is a vibrant medical debate about the health and efficacy of statins? Are doctors letting their patients know that not all practitioners consider high cholesterol to be bad, and that many consider cholesterol to be correlated with heart disease rather than causative of it? Do doctors give high-cholesterol patients all the information (both sides of the argument) so they can make informed decisions for themselves? We all know that the answer is no. When it comes to high cholesterol most doctors prefer to keep their patients in ignorance that there even is a vibrant debate within the medical community.

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