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July 9, 1982

Truth Telling in Medicine

Author Affiliations

St Lucas Hospital Ekeren-Antwerp, Belgium

JAMA. 1982;248(2):169. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330020015006

To the Editor.—  The SPECIAL COMMUNICATION "Truth Telling in Medicine" (1982;247:651) was an interesting analysis based on philosophic theories. However, it did not address one question that arises frequently: Does the patient understand the truth? It is often that we encounter patients who are in such a state of emotional disarray because of their illness or an impending procedure (ie, surgery) that they simply do not understand either an explanation or truth telling—even when truth or facts are repeated over and over again.This has nothing to do with the intelligence of patients; they simply and quite understandably cannot assimilate facts because of emotional stress, anxiety, and fear of the unknown. Perhaps the inability to assimilate the truth happens more often when the patient is hurried into a frightening treatment and perhaps less often when the patient is in severe pain that he knows can be alleviated.In parts of