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When is it okay to tell a lie? Some people think little white lies are okay — as long as they don’t harm anyone. Other people are willing to use a more generous definition regarding what constitutes a “little” white lie.
People tell lies to cover up their mistakes; they lie because they’re embarrassed to acknowledge that they did something wrong. In reality, however, lying is never acceptable. Not only is lying disrespectful, but in a medical setting it can put people’s lives in jeopardy.
Regardless, a recent study found that 11 percent of doctors have told a patient or a child’s guardian something that was untrue in the past year. In addition, 20 percent of doctors admitted that they have failed to fully disclose medical mistakes to patients because they were afraid of being sued.
The study’s unnerving results raise concerns as to whether patients are able to make good decisions about their health care if they do not receive complete and accurate information from their physicians. In addition, without openness and honesty, practices that focus on patients’ needs, preferences and values become almost impossible.
A medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania said that withholding any mistake is inexcusable. He also pointed out that a physician’s care would likely need to be changed to reflect or respond to the mistake, so failing to tell the truth about one thing could result in a multitude of lies to a patient.
In a follow-up study, 55 percent of doctors admitted to describing a patient’s condition in a more positive manner than was warranted. Doctors may have had their patients’ best interest at heart — fearing that telling the truth would upset the patient or cause them to lose hope — but lying, especially in the context of serious medical errors, is unacceptable.
Source: Vitals on msnbc.com, “Many doctors tell white lies, study finds,” MyHealthNewsDaily staff, Feb. 8, 2011