Promotion of a false sense of hope when providing end-of-life services or informing patients about terminal diagnoses is an undeniable moral dilemma. According to Sarafis, Tsounis, Malliarou, and Lahana (2014), “most of the times truth telling means conveying bad news” and, due to this, a large portion of practitioners “encounter many difficulties during truth telling, which lead them to feel psychological distress, impacting negatively on their emotional well-being and work satisfaction” (p. 129). Considering this, care providers may tend to hide some aspects of health-related information, which they consider especially disturbing, and alleviate the effects of bad news by giving false hope to patients.
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Another side of the issue is that patients and their relatives may frequently find it hard to accept that nothing can be done to improve their situation. In this case, even if a care provider is convinced that a patient’s case is hopeless, it is his or her moral right to satisfy as much of a patient’s’ wishes as possible. As the results of the study by McHugh et al. (2015) demonstrate, a common societal perspective indicates that “patients’ rights are central and life is regarded as precious and priceless so even high cost treatments that deliver limited benefits should not be withheld from patients” (p. 14). Nevertheless, the efficiency of life-extending treatments is an important factor to consider as well. Moreover, it is worth remembering that, for many people, the quality of life would be much more important than its length. Thus, this variable should also be taken into account in decision-making regarding the end-of-life service and intervention.
Overall, the problem that you touched upon in your discussion is a very complex one and it has no single solution. It is possible to say that when dealing with a family that wants to extend the life of their terminally ill relative, it is essential to engage them in a trustful dialogue. An open conversation is a key to attaining mutual understanding and helping the family of the patient cope with their situation at least a little bit better.
McHugh, N., Baker, R. M., Mason, H., Williamson, L., van Exel, J., Deogaonkar, R., … Donaldson, C. (2015). Extending life for people with a terminal illness: A moral right and an expensive death? Exploring societal perspectives. BMC Medical Ethics, 16, 14.
Sarafis, P., Tsounis, A., Malliarou, M., & Lahana, E. (2014). Disclosing the truth: a dilemma between instilling hope and respecting patient autonomy in everyday clinical practice. Global Journal of Health Science, 6(2), 128-137.