Law and ethics professor Rebecca Dresser, author of “Malignant: Medical Ethicists Confront Cancer,” gave a presentation June 4 in which she described her own bout with cancer and how it changed her views about medical ethics.
BEST RESPONSE: "Yes, it could be cancer. But if it is, we’ll be right there with you."
Among her observations: “Knowing about a life-threatening diagnosis may be better than not knowing, but it’s terrible knowledge,” she said. “With it comes impossible treatment choices” — both for patients and physicians who treat them.
Her cancer experience caused her to undergo extensive chemotherapy, along with suffered severe weight loss. She was forced to use a feeding tube for several months, which resulted in slightly slurred speech.
Recounting stories of doctors who “display shocking insensitivity” with “terse statements and evasive language,” Dresser said, the best response she’s heard from a physician obligated to convey bad news about cancer to a patient was simple and compassionate:
“Yes, it could be cancer. But if it is, we’ll be right there with you.”
Dresser, a longtime faculty member at Washington University in St. Louis, was the final speaker in a year-long series on cancer and ethics presented by UC San Diego Extension and the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology in San Diego.
Free and open to the public, the event was held at the Reuben H. Fleet Space Center.