Medical truths

Sacca pāramī : truthfulness, honesty

There are many specific ways in which we lie to each other, with confused or mixed intentions. In this post, I quote from Sam Harris exploring a sub-set of lies involving medical information. The temptation to avoid the truth in medical situations often reflects our reluctance to be the bearer of bad news to our loved ones, though hiding the truth only makes the news more of a shock when it inevitably comes to light. It usually makes those excluded feel rejected and hurt. It is a delusion to suppose that if we don’t say something out loud, no one else will notice it. Contemplating these things, we can clearly see that saying and hearing the truth, while sometimes uncomfortable, is always the best path.

(from Lying by Sam Harris):
…tales of medical deception were once extraordinarily common. In fact, I know of at least one instance within my own family: My maternal grandmother died of cancer when my mother was sixteen. She had been suffering from metastatic melanoma for nearly a year, but her doctor had told her that she had arthritis. Her husband, my grandfather, knew her actual diagnosis but decided to maintain this deception as well.

After my grandmother’s condition deteriorated, and she was finally hospitalized, she confided to a nurse that she knew that she was dying. However, she imagined that she had been keeping this a secret from the rest of her family, her husband included. Needless to say, my mother and her younger brother were kept entirely in the dark. In their experience, their mother checked into the hospital for “arthritis” and never returned.

Think of all the opportunities for deepening love, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding that are forsaken by white lies of this kind. When we pretend not to know the truth, we must also pretend not to be motivated by it. This can force us to make choices that we would not otherwise make. Did my grandfather really have nothing to say to his wife in light of the fact that she would soon die? Did she really have nothing to say to her two children to help prepare them for their lives without her? These silences are lacerating. Wisdom remains unshared, promises unmade, and apologies unoffered. The opportunity to say something useful to the people we love soon disappears, never to return.

Who would choose to leave this world in such terrible isolation? Perhaps there are those who would. But why should anyone make this choice for another person?

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Filed under Perfections, Speech

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