This article examines an ethical controversy that has received relatively little attention in public debates about the legalization of medical aid-in-dying (AID): should physicians inform patients that they have the option of hastening death? Drawing on ethnographic research about the implementation of AID in Vermont, I argue that how we understand the moral stakes of this debate depends on divergent views regarding language use in social interactions. Some stakeholders in this debate view a physician’s words as powerful enough to damage the patient-physician relationship or to influence a patient to hasten her death, while others believe that merely informing patients about AID cannot move them to act against their own values and preferences. I illustrate how these divergent perspectives are tied to competing language ideologies regarding clinical disclosure, which I call ‘disclosure ideologies’. My analysis of these two disclosure ideologies surrounding AID highlights disclosure practices in medicine as a rich site for medical anthropological theorizing on linguistic performativity and the social power of clinical language.
Medicine Anthropology Theory 6 (1) : 5–29Full article