A crisis of trust exists in the doctor-patient relationship in contemporary transitional China. This essay applies the Confucian notions of sincerity and trustworthiness to analyze the causes of the crisis. It argues that sincerity is the root of trust in human relations. For trust to develop between patients and doctors, sincerity must be cultivated. Without sincerity mediating human relations, trust between doctors and patients is impossible.
The Confucian doctrine of sincerity is based on one’s inherent moral personality, and is part of the virtuous treatment of others. In Confucianism, love is a relational virtue, meaning one should practice filial piety, be kind to one’s children, sympathetic to strangers, and so forth; however, one must also be reliable and trustworthy in whatever type of relationship in which one is engaged. To gain the trust of their patients, doctors must demonstrate Confucian virtues in their activities. In addition, with regard to benefits, doctors must not forget virtue or righteousness. They should not make a profit that is not within the scope of Confucian virtue. This point is particularly applicable to today’s crisis of trust, because many consider that doctors have violated Confucian principles by making a profit.
The essay concludes that a strong doctor-patient trust relationship cannot be built in contemporary transitional China without the cultivation of the Confucian notion of sincerity. Without doubt, the doctor-patient relationship is complicated by the high-tech medical environment, inevitable vulnerability of patients, and rapid development of the healthcare market. All of these factors make it even more important that doctors form a life attitude that incorporates sincerity and trustworthiness, which are manifested in the virtuous practice of their profession. The Confucian notions of sincerity and trustworthiness will equip doctors to properly understand and achieve professional goals and interests in the care of their patients. Finally, to help in the maintenance of a strong trust relation between doctors and patients, proper public policy, social mechanisms, and effective supervision and regulation based on sincerity and trustworthiness are indispensable.