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Implications of sympathy, empathy and apathy in medico-legal practice

Authors:

D. Ariyarathne ,

University of Sri Jayawardenepure, LK
About D.
Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences
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S.R. Hulathduwa

University of Sri Jayawardenepure, LK
About S.R.
Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences
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Abstract

The terms sympathy and empathy have subtly different meanings. Sympathy is the caring, concern and understanding for the suffering of others while empathy refers to being-putting oneself in the place of an aggrieved party. Apathy means lack of feeling, emotion, interest or concern which leads the individual to a state of indifference. This article is aimed at creating a dialogue among medico-legal practitioners as to what extent should empathy or sympathy be shown to their clients.

Expression of sympathy or empathy by medico-legal professionals in Sri Lanka may be limited because of several reasons. As the prime concern of a medico-legal professional is to gather information for a court of law, this may require him to be more factually oriented without taking emotions into account. Emotional involvement in a case may cloud the professional’s judgement. Furthermore, as medico-legal professionals see many emotionally agonising cases on a daily basis, one might find it traumatising to become emotionally involved in each case. Unless the practicing doctors are appropriately trained in life skills such as the desired method of reacting in front of the patients, bereaved relatives and other concerned parties, the overwhelming reactions to emotions would make the practitioner trespass the professional boundaries. However if one reacts with apathy and indifference, the investigation process may be deficient and incomplete. It is important to strike a balance between ‘caring too much’ and ‘caring too little’. However it is not easy to lay guidelines as to how much to react in a given setting. It should be judged by the practicing doctor using common wisdom and past experience. Therefore it is important to address the matter from the very first stages of post-graduate training in Forensic Medicine.

Sri Lanka Journal of Forensic Medicine, Science & Law Vol.6(1): 21-24 (2015)

How to Cite: Ariyarathne, D. & Hulathduwa, S.R., (2015). Implications of sympathy, empathy and apathy in medico-legal practice. Sri Lanka Journal of Forensic Medicine, Science & Law. 6(1), pp.21–24. DOI: http://doi.org/10.4038/sljfmsl.v6i1.7759
Published on 20 Nov 2015.
Peer Reviewed

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