April 25, 2013
In the days when American physicians dispensed oracular commands and their judgments were rarely questioned, a doctor could take it upon himself with few ethical qualms to keep from a patient the bad news of a terminal diagnosis.
For better or worse, those days may be well behind us. But physicians have not ceased debating one of the stickiest and most universal ethical quandaries of medical practice: How, when and why does one inform a patient that he or she is dying? The latest evidence of that ongoing discussion was published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.
The latest question in the journal’s “Head to Head” feature, “Do patients need to know they are terminally ill?,” essentially pits one side’s reasonable arguments that “we’re all dying” and “you never really know when and of what a patient will die” against another side’s equally compelling assertions that “knowledge allows better decisions” and “a patient can still have hope — to live to see a daughter married or achieve a cherished goal or to die a peaceful death at home.” More