Observations Ethics Man

When doctors deceive each other

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c740 (Published 17 February 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c740
  1. Daniel K Sokol, honorary senior lecturer in medical ethics, Imperial College London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}talk21.com

We need to be honest and open about the deceptions that occur between clinicians so that we can find out why they occur

In my mid-20s I spent three years of my life pondering the following question: “Can doctors ever justifiably deceive their patients?” The answer, in a word, was yes. Contrary to professional guidelines and modern codes of ethics, I argued that benevolent deception by doctors is, on rare occasions, morally permissible.1 Many readers were not amused. Some pointed to the guidance of the General Medical Council, which states that one of the cardinal duties of a doctor is to “be honest and open and act with integrity.” Readers will not be amused at this article either, for it addresses a delicate issue seldom raised in the literature: doctors deceiving each other.2 To my deception sensitive eyes, there is an elephant in the hospital and, following the advice of the late Professor Randy Pausch, I shall introduce it.3

A doctor needs a computed tomography scan for his patient. To obtain the scan in good time he feigns concern about a possible pulmonary embolus on the radiology request form. He is also …

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