by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.
The Texas Senate just passed a new bill (SB 25) that would shield doctors from a lawsuit if a baby is born with a disability even if the doctor knew of the concern and chose not to tell the parents. Opponents of the bill say that it permits doctors to lie to their patients if the doctor believes that knowledge might lead the woman to choose an abortion. The Houston Chronicle reports the bill’s aim is to “chip away at abortion rights.”
The Texas law does not go as far as a 2015 Arizona law that mandated physicians lie to patients by telling them that an abortion can be reversed. The new Texas bill would “allow” doctors to lie to patients and shield them from lawsuit unless the patient could prove gross negligence. The burden is on the patient to prove that the doctor should not have lied.
One of the first rules of professionalism that I teach in undergraduate and medical school bioethics courses is that in general, you never lie to the patient. Telling the truth is a bedrock concept necessary to respect patient autonomy. In order to make decisions, patients need to have knowledge of their condition and their treatment options (risks, benefits, and alternatives).
There are a few circumstances in which lying to patients is ethically acceptable: If the physician has strong reasons to believe that information would push the patient to do harm to him/herself or others, or if the family has requested that a patient not be told information because of cultural practices and the patient has agreed that she/he does not want to know the news.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.