In a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, it was revealed that a majority of patients who had incurable cancer thought they would survive. More specifically, the study surveyed 1,200 patients going through chemotherapy due to incurable lung and colon cancers. 69% of all lung cancer patients and 81% of all colon cancer patients believed that their treatment would eventually cure them.
Now there is obviously nothing wrong with being optimistic about one’s life. However, the ethical questions arise when doctors fail to be completely truthful with their patients.
Dr. Thomas J. Smith of Johns Hopkins University and Dr. Dan. L. Longo, a deputy editor at the medical journal, states that “if patients actually have unrealistic expectations of a cure from a therapy that is administered with palliative intent, we have a serious problem of miscommunication.”
This seems obvious, but is probably not as simple in real life. It can be tough for a doctor revealing the diagnosis of a dying patient. How much should he tell? How should he speak with the patient? All these questions are harder in practice than in theory.
However, Dr. Smith gives a suggestion on handling these difficult moments. He suggests that doctors use a “ask, tell, ask” method. They should first ask the patients how much they want to know about their diagnosis. Then give an answer based on their desires. Then make sure to continue to ask the patient questions that may be important to him or her.
There is no easy way to handling this, but it does seem like a moral obligation for doctors to make sure that patients are not misinformed, even if the diagnosis is death. Comment and tell us what you think.