October 25, 1971

Playing Supergod

JAMA. 1971;218(4):588. doi:10.1001/jama.1971.03190170066017

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How should we tell a patient with a fatal disease the truth? And having told it, how do we prepare him for dying? These questions are discussed widely in current medical and lay publications as well as on televised panels in which physicians share concerns with attorneys, clergymen, and psychiatrists.

These concerns are not new. Until recently, however, the central question was not how to tell a patient the truth, but whether to tell it. Opinions were divided. Those who favored leveling with the patient marshalled persuasive arguments for so doing. After all, truth is considered to be a moral-religious imperative. To withhold it is sinful, as well as harmful and impractical. Why deprive the patient of a compelling incentive for setting his business affairs in order and making his peace with God?

Less self-righteous, those who oppose informing the patient were often too self-conscious to present their views with

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