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Exploring in More Depth Issues of Truth Telling, Deceit and Lying
  1. Rob George
  1. Rob George is Professor of Palliative Care, Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London, School of Medicine, and Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London. Email:{at}


The ethics article in the last issue (George, 2011; see journal archives) discussed the case of an 80-year-old woman called Martha, with advanced multi-infarct dementia. When Martha suffered infarcts, her cognitive ability temporarily worsened and, for short periods, she forgot that her husband had died. When told that he was in fact dead, Martha would get very distressed. Therefore, during these episodes, her daughter, with whom Martha lived, started to pretend that her father was still alive. However, the decision to ‘lie’ to Martha caused friction with Martha’s other daughter, who thought that her mother should always be told the truth. The article discussed the ethics of truth telling, whether it is always in patients’ best interests to be told the truth and whether situations exist where lying may be justified. The article was the subject of debate among members of the resource nurse journal club of the palliative care team at Hawke’s Bay Hospital, New Zealand, who sent End of Life Journal the main issues that were discussed (Table 1). This article responds to that feedback and explores the issue of truth telling in more depth. Conflicts of interest: none

  • Moral judgments
  • Truth telling
  • Value judgments
  • Virtue

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