Fickle as Want

Rereading the paper afterward, I found the authors warning that doctors would sometimes have to go farther than just interpreting people’s wishes in order to serve their needs. Wants are fickle. And everyone has what philosophers call “second-order desires”–desires about our desires. We may wish, for instance, to be less impulsive, more healthy, less controlled by primitive desires like fear or hunger, more faithful to larger goals. Doctors who listen to only the momentary, first-order desires may not be serving their patients’ real wishes, after all….At some point, therefore, it becomes not only right but also necessary for a doctor to deliberate with people on their larger goals, to even challenge them to rethink ill-considered priorities and beliefs.

–Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

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