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Should Terminal Illness Be Disclosed

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Physicians disagree whether terminal illness patients should be informed that they are dying. A recent study in the British Medical Journal highlighted the thinking on both sides of this controversial issue. On the one hand is the patient's right to know the truth about his or her condition. Not telling a patient about bad news undermines the physician patient relationship and deprives people of the opportunity to put their lives in order. Decisions about finances, guardianships, and funerals may not be made, because patients do not understand their inevitable close at hand demises.

However there are concerns amongst some palliative medicine physicians that telling the patient with terminal illness that they are dying causes more suffering than it relieves. Although an illness is terminal, the prognosis can never be certain and patient attitudes appear to make a difference in outcomes. Near end of life treatments with chemotherapy or other procedures are stressful and patients need a prospect of a cure in order to submit to these arduous and painful procedures.

Britcher Leone & Roth understands the importance of patient's right to receive information that is necessary to make an inform treatment decision. Failure to do so creates an action for lack of informed consent, if the harm of an undisclosed risk materializes. The risks of and alternatives to the proposed treatment, including the risk of doing nothing, and which a reasonable person would want to know in such a situation, must be explained to the patient. The failure to provide information about a risk, which a reasonable patient would not find acceptable, is a basis for a malpractice action if the patient is subsequently injured.

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