Is it legal for a doctor not to tell a cancer patient they are terminal?

We were led to believe, even when lab results were progressively getting worse, that there was still great hope to overcome this disease. Then 2 weeks, weeks prior to death, a new type of chemo was started by the oncologist. Had they told us that the cancer was terminal, we would have tried to improve quality of life within those 2 week probably longer.

Asked on April 26, 2017 under Malpractice Law, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

There is no firm guidance on this point: it is up to the discretion of the doctor, as long as he/she is acting in accordance with generally accepted standards of care, in the patient's interests. There is a difference of opinion on this subject: some doctors feel that you have to be open and transparent, so that patients can settle their affairs, have a chance for closure or accomplish their "bucket list," etc. Other doctors feel that by lying or hiding the severity, you keep the patient's morale and spirits up, which can boost the immune system and health and increase the chance of overcoming the disease, or at least living longer. Since there is a legitimate difference of medical opinion about this, it is not likely wrong for your doctor to have done what he/she did.


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