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Positive thinking and moral oppression in cancer care

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Anecdotal evidence suggests that many cancer patients experience moral and psychological pressure to ‘think positively’ about their disease in order to ‘fight’ cancer. Such pressure seems to be both internally and externally generated. This paper examines some of the psychological literature which supports the connection between positive thinking and recovery but it also looks at the moral implications of these kinds of ideas, particularly when patients have to face deterioration in their health and the prospect of death. In emphasizing the positive, there may be two important consequences. Firstly, negative feelings may be marginalized or simply denied, a phenomenon which carries its own psychological implications and secondly, when faced with a failure to recover, people may interpret this as a moral failure i.e. they did not try hard enough. It is the writer’s contention that such ideas can result in a sense of guilt and blame which could be diminished if not eradicated, if health care professionals were more careful to understand what is at stake when inculcating or endorsing an attitude of ‘positive thinking’.
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Keywords: blame; hope; moral oppression; positive thinking; responsibility

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: Centre for Philosophy and Health Care, University of Wales, Swansea, UK

Publication date: December 1, 1997

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