Hastings Center Report
Mapping the Moral Terrain of Clinical Deception
Abstract: Legal precedent, professional-society statements, and even many medical ethicists agree that some situations may call for a clinician to engage in an act of lying or nonlying deception of a patient or patient’s family member. Still, the moral terrain of clinical deception is largely uncharted, and when it comes to practical guidance for clinicians, many might think that ethicists offer nothing more than the rule never to deceive. This guidance is insufficient to meet the real-world demands of clinical practice, and this article endeavors to articulate a framework to help clinicians better navigate the ethics of clinical deceit. The framework articulates four morally relevant dimensions of a potential deceptive act that should be examined to better determine the moral justification that might be required: the target of the act, the nature of the information, the nature of the act, and the context of the act.