Should terminally ill patients be told the truth?
You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!
~ Colonel Jessop in A Few Good Men
That seems to be the concern of relatives of terminally ill patients – that they might not be able to handle the truth that they are facing death, that the truth might distress them more and cause them to deteriorate faster.
Is this right or wrong?
There is no straight answer but relatives need to consider that patients are intelligent and will question their condition, will be aware that something is not right and will seek answers. Doctors will then be faced with the dilemma of telling the truth or trying to deflect the actual diagnosis. The point we make is that the truth will often help patients face the situation better than not to know what to expect in the future. Knowing what to expect comes with the ability to plan, and there may be real practical needs like making a will if not done, property and share transfers etc.
Knowing the truth also comes with the discussion of palliative care, and with proper management, suffering like pain can be minimised.
You might think this is unique in Asian culture but it also happens in the Western world, as we came across this Op-Ed in the LA Times: For a dying patient, a prescription of silence
What is your opinion? Should dying patients be told the truth? Take the poll:
Doctors might be interested to discuss further in our Dobbs forum thread The dying patient: to tell or not to tell