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Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Paternalistic over-ride

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 06 April 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2097
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

In his letter to Consentius, the 5th century Gallic grammarian, on the subject of lying, St Augustine discussed the question of whether it would be permissible to conceal from a very ill man that his son had died, if it was thought that the truth would harm him. Although Augustine sympathised with the motive for the lie, he held that it was impermissible to tell it, for two reasons: because it was against scripture to lie, and because once lying for good causes was permissible it would soon spread and make trustful human communication more difficult.

The philosopher Sissela Bok generally takes more or less the same line, …

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