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ETHICS IN MEDICINE   University of Washington School of Medicine

Truth-telling and Withholding Information:
Case 1 Discussion

Several factors tempt one to withhold the diagnosis, and these should be recognized. One would be the concern that the patient would suffer psychological harm that would interfere with his planned trip. There is little empirical evidence that this occurs, and lacking some compelling reason to think it would occur with this man, it is insufficient grounds to withhold information. To the contrary, sensitive disclosure would allow the patient and his wife to decide if the trip is still important to them, versus seeing their grandchildren, for instance, and would spare the patient the inconvenience of suffering advancing symptoms while traveling, perhaps necessitating emergency care in a foreign locale. Finally, physicians should not confuse discomfort at giving bad news with justification for withholding the truth. In this case, the man should be told his diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options.

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