Altruism and Self Interest in Medical Decision Making



We seem to prefer that medicine and medical care be provided through altruistic motives. Even the pharmaceutical industry justifies its behavior in terms of altruistic purposes. But economists have known since Adam Smith that self-interested behavior can create large and growing social benefits. This is true for medical care as well as for other goods. First, I consider specifically the case of pharmaceutical promotion, both to physicians and to consumers. I argue that such promotion is highly beneficial to patients and leads to health improvements. I consider some criticisms of promotion, and show that they are misguided. I then provide some evolutionary explanations for our erroneous beliefs about medical care.