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September 17, 1982

Truth Telling in Medicine

Author Affiliations

Potomac, Md

JAMA. 1982;248(11):1307. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330110015005

To the Editor.—  In "Truth Telling in Medicine" (1982;247:651), Dr Mark Sheldon discussed the following two interesting moral dilemmas:

  1. A man has contracted gonorrhea on an extramarital fling and then had intercourse with his wife. Both have the same physician, who is soon due to give the wife a routine examination. The husband requests that the physician treat his wife but conceal the diagnosis, because he fears for the marriage if she learns the truth. Should the physician comply?

  2. Should a diagnosis of cancer be withheld from a person who might be depressed or despondent, because learning the truth might cause him to commit suicide?

Two ethical considerations are relevant to resolving these dilemmas in practice: First, a physician should assess the risks and benefits of truth telling on the basis of current scientific knowledge, rather than on folklore or his own personal discomfort. Behavioral scientists studying communication