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Doctors Answer Tough Ethical Questions

In Ethical Dilemma, What Would Your Doctor Do? Frank Answers From Real MDs

Would you ever recommend or give life-sustaining therapy when you judged that it was futile?


  • Yes, 23.6%
  • No, 37.0%
  • It depends, 39.4%

Doctors said:

  • "Why waste money and time when results are nil?"
  • "I would do this if I felt it would give the family time to accept the inevitability of death."


Are there times when it's acceptable to cover up or avoid revealing a mistake if that mistake would not cause harm to the patient?


  • Yes, 19.0%
  • No, 60.1%
  • It depends, 20.9%

Doctors said:

  • "Cover-ups are never OK."
  • "Why make a mountain out of a molehill if it will cause the patient more emotionally upset than simply not saying anything, as long as no physical harm has occurred?"


Are there times when it's acceptable to cover up or avoid revealing a mistake if that mistake would potentially or likely harm the patient?


  • Yes, 1.6%
  • No, 94.9%
  • It depends, 3.5%

Doctors said:

  • "I would, but I would contact an attorney first."
  • "We take an oath to do no harm. Covering up is a form of lying."


Would you ever undertreat a patient's pain because you’re concerned about repercussions or because you believe that a patient -- even a terminal patient -- might become addicted?


  • Yes, 5.6%
  • No, 84.1%
  • It depends, 10.3%

Doctors said:

  • "Pain should not be undertreated, and what's the problem with a terminal patient being addicted and comfortable?"
  • "Having been sanctioned by an out-of-control, vindictive state medical board, such things aren't even in the purview of ethics, but rather a survival mechanism for my ability to continue practicing."


Would you ever hide information from a patient about a terminal or preterminal diagnosis in an effort to bolster their spirit or attitude?


  • Yes, I soften it and give hope even if there's little chance, 14.6%
  • Yes, unless someone is going to die imminently, I don't tell them how bad it is, 1.7%
  • No, I tell it exactly as I see it, 59.8%
  • It depends, 23.8%

Doctors said:

  • "Most of the time, I tell them exactly as it is; they need to know the truth, and who am I to judge what they should or shouldn't know? If the patient is very frail emotionally and physically and has a very supportive family, I may not."
  • "The truth, delivered with compassion, is a gift."


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