Fascinating excerpt from Evan R. Goldstein's article on Sheena Iyengar and her new book, The Art of Choosing, which is on my reading list for this year:
Her experiments have also looked at the psychological costs associated with making unpleasant decisions, like whether to discontinue life-sustaining treatment for an infant. Doctors have historically taken a paternalistic approach to their relationship with patients, making such anguishing decisions for them. In France, that is still the case. In America, however, since the 1950s, a doctrine of "informed consent" has placed more control in the hands of patients.
So are Americans better off? Along with Simona Botti, an assistant professor of marketing at the London Business School, and Kristina Orfali, an associate clinical professor of bioethics at Columbia, Iyengar compared how French and American parents of children who were removed from respirators were coping. The three researchers found that while the Americans struggled with guilt and resentment, the French were much more at peace with the decision to let their children die.
"When confronted by tragic choices, individuals are likely to be better off if those choices are either physically or psychologically removed from them," Iyengar and her collaborators concluded in a paper last year. They called for a nuanced approach that takes into account how people benefit from not making such agonizing decisions. "The medical professionals I've heard from agree that there is a problem," Iyengar says, "but no solution."