Truthfulness is a fundamental moral value within a society. Truth telling is considered as an important responsibility in health care field. Doctors should not lie to patients in their role of medical profession. However, some medical professionals believe that physicians should tell lies to benefit their patients. (Toscani , Maestroni &Farsides, 2006). According to Sissella Bok (2007) physicians should not lie because truth telling assists patients to deal with illness in many positive ways.
It helps to deal with the illness, manage pain better, and recover faster after an illness (p489). My opinion doctors should tell truth to patients because it respects them as persons, improves public confidence, and empowers patients. It is well observed that majority of patients need to be learned and informed what they have. “Patients should be told the truth because of the respect due to them as persons. Patients have a right to be told important information that physicians have about them” (Herbert, Hoffmaster, Glass, &Singer, 1997, p. 26).
Patients do not want to be deceived by professionals. Who wants to be happy superficially only by consulting a physician? Truth telling permits to gain awareness of the situation of the patient. In addition, truth telling gives insight to make future decisions in their lives. According to Fallowfield’s study of patients, “Most patients diagnosed with a life threatening illness want to know the truth to enable them to make plans for their remaining time and arrangements for the future of their families” (as cited in Vivion,2006,p341).
Furthermore, lies undermine trust between patients and physicians. Untruths destroy patient respect. In the article, Toscani , Maestroni &Farsides, (2006) describes that some western cultures influenced by religious concepts have different attitudes towards terminally ill patients where doctors are reluctant to accept patient’s self determining rights. In “To Lie or Not to Lie,” Bok (2007) describes consequences of lies. It emphasizes that deception leads to disrupt interconnectivity within a profession and has long term effects on their credibility.
Furthermore, lies contribute to build suspicion among patients and under value works done by other honest colleagues. The resulted litigation and concurrent practice of defensive medicine harm the view of entire medical profession (p 488-489). Many legal actions resulting from improper communication between professionals and patients can lead to diminish public confidence of medical profession. In “Bioethics for Clinicians” Herbert, Hoffmaster, Glass, &Singer (1997) describes some of the legal aspects of doctor patient communication that affect public confidence in medical profession.
It states that truth telling should involve not only honest communication but also disclosure of medical records which include mishaps occurred in the course of treatment as well (p 225-228). Therefore disclosure of all the incidents following a surgical or medical procedure is important. “Telling the truth can defuse resentment on the part of the patient and reduce the risk of legal action. Such frankness may thus foster, rather than undermine, the patent’s trust in physicians” (Herbert, Hoffmaster, Glass, &Singer, 1997, p. 226). Public confidence in the profession promotes the doctor patient relationship and compliance. Truth telling increases patient compliance reduces the morbidity such as pain associated with medical interventions and improves health outcomes” (Herbert, Hoffmaster, Glass, &Singer, 1997, p. 226). On the other hand, lies negatively affect upon the family relationship of the patient.
“Health care professionals often collude with the patient’s relatives to withhold information from the patient, a breach of trust that subsequently impacts upon the relationships between the patient and the family” (Vivion, 2006, p. 341). Truth enables patients to make informed decisions about health care and about their lives. Humans have autonomy, ability to reason, plan and make choices about the future. So that patient has the right of informed consent and confidentiality’ (Kumar&Clark, 2006, p01). Untruth leads patients to unstable situations. “Apart from the ability to choose, autonomy is also manifested in the ability for authentic self creation and self-manifestation. One of the problems with deception is that it makes it impossible for people to relate to reality and to react to it” (Schermer,2007,p07). Physicians can empower the patient by telling truth before any invasive procedure.
In addition to that the outcome of any medical condition can be explained deeply to prevent future misunderstanding. “The pervasive uncertainty in medicine can and should be shared with patients. Telling patients about the clinical uncertainties and the range of options available to them allows them to appreciate the complexities of medicine, to ask questions, to make informed, realistic decisions and to assume responsibility for those decisions”( (Herbert, Hoffmaster, Glass, &Singer, 1997, p. 226). Doctors can educate patients to make informed choices. By explaining the truth about diagnosis and treatment options we generate the basis for that freedom and expect patients to make appropriate decisions about their treatment” (Gold, 2004. p578). Patient consent can be considered as a part of truth telling. Physicians can obtain consent from patients prior to procedures. This is important because it respects and empowers the patient. “Additionally there is a legal requirement for doctors to obtain consent from their patients prior to procedures and to inform patients of their condition, treatment options and material risks of treatment” (Gold, 2004, p578).
To conclude, it is clear that truth telling is important in medical practice, not only in terms of providing information to patients, but also on the aspect of health care professionals. Truth telling has more value than lies because it respects patients as persons, helps to improve public confidence and autonomy of the patients.
Bok, S. (2007). To Lie or Not to Lie? – The Doctor’s Dilemma. In S. Barnet, M. Slubbs, P. Bellanca, & P. Stimpson (Eds. ), The practical guide to writing (2nd ed. , pp. 488 – 489). Toronto: Pearson. Gold, M. (2004). Is honesty always the best policy?
Ethical aspects of truth telling. Internal Medicine Journal, 34(9-10), 578-580. Retrieved from http://web. ebscohost. com. ezproxy. acbv. talonline. ca/ehost Hebert, P. , Hoffmaster, B. , Glass, K. , & Singer, P. (1997). Bioethics for clinicians: 7. Truth telling. CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal, 156(2), 225-228. Retrieved from http://web. ebscohost. com. ezproxy. acbv. talonline. ca/ehost Kumar, P. , & Clark, M. (2006). Ethics and Communication: Clinical Medicine (6th Ed. ). Philadelphia, U. S. A. Schermer, M. (2007). Nothing but the truth? On truth and deception in dementia care. Bioethics, 21(1), 13-22.
Retrieved from http://web. ebscohost. com. ezproxy. acbv. talonline. ca/ehost Toscani, F. , & Farsides, C. (2006). Deception, catholicism, and hope: understanding problems in the communication of unfavorable prognoses in traditionally-catholic countries. The American Journal of Bioethics: AJOB, 6(1), W6-W18. Retrieved from http://web. ebscohost. com. ezproxy. acbv. talonline. ca/ehost Vivian, R. (2006). Truth telling in palliative care nursing: the dilemmas of collusion. International Journal of Palliative Nursing, 12(7), 341-348. Retrieved from http://web. ebscohost. com. ezproxy. acbv. talonline. ca/ehost