Does a Doctor Have a Right to Delay Bad News?

Playing Why Did a Doctor Delay Telling Woman about Her Cancer?

The Doctors discuss the story of an Australian physician who delayed telling a patient about her incurable lung cancer until she returned from her upcoming two-week cruise because he wanted her to enjoy her time. Unfortunately, the patient contracted pneumonia on the trip and died. Now, her family is angry with the doctor and consider what he did paternalistic rather than compassionate. Do you think he did the right thing?

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The Doctors discuss both sides of the argument. Internal medicine physician Dr. Melina Jampolis’ initial reaction is similar to that of the doctor, “If this woman doesn’t have very much time, I’d want her to have a good time on the cruise and enjoy whatever she has left.” Plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon adds the patient getting sick and dying was unforeseeable and he too doesn’t think the doctor was unreasonable.

However, as The Doctors further discuss, their opinions all seem to align that the doctor should have told her immediately. OB/GYN Dr. Nita Landry brings up the point that this woman may have wanted to do something else with the end of her life; she might have kids or grandkids she would have chosen to spend time with instead of going on the cruise. 

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Emergency room physician Dr. Jedidiah Ballard agrees, saying that although it probably came from a good place, it’s the patient's right to decide what they want to do with their time. For doctors, delivering bad news is never easy, however, it’s the patient's right to know. “Sometimes it’s hard in medicine to not be human first,” Dr. Jampolis adds, addressing the challenges of delivering bad news as a doctor.

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