February 1986

Informing the Patient of a Fatal Illness

Author Affiliations

Jamaica, NY

Arch Intern Med. 1986;146(2):413. doi:10.1001/archinte.1986.00360140269042

To the Editor.  —The practicing physician is frequently confronted with the problem of informing a patient that he has a fatal illness. Should the patient be told the nature of his illness and the expected outcome? If the answer is affirmative, at what stage of the illness should the patient be told? Who should inform the patient—the physician, the next-of-kin, or both—or perhaps the minister, priest, or rabbi, according to the patient's religion and the depth of his religious feeling and observance? These and related questions cry out for answers, yet no simple answers can be given.According to Jewish tradition,1-4 a patient suffering from a fatal illness should not be so informed if there is the slightest chance that such knowledge may further impair his physical or mental well-being. Jewish ethics permit, and even require, the facts concerning the true severity of the illness to be withheld from

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