Knowledge of Information


Ralph is a recent widower in his midi-60\'s, who was diagnosed with
metatastasized colon cancer. He is a home health agency patient, and his primary
caregivers are his two daughters. Ralph is unaware of the severity of his
condition and wanted to know what his state of health and prognosis were. The
nurse evaded his questions initially, and his daughters did not want to tell him
that his cancer was terminal. The nurse\'s position was not to continue providing
care for Ralph, as she would be deceiving him by not telling him the truth.
When the nurse consulted with Ralph\'s physician, he agreed with the family\'s
decision, as he felt that they needed time to accept their mother\'s recent death
and Ralph\'s impending death. The doctor ordered the nurse not to oppose him and
not to disclose any further infomation to Ralph.


In most cases, a rational person has a right to truthful information and
avoidance of deception, which will allow him to decide which course of treatment
to follow. A patient\'s right to decide includes the right to know the truth, not
be brainwashed, and not be lied to or deceived by having information withheld
that is relevant to his own health. There is a moral standard that condemns lies,
deception and withholding of relevant information. To tell Ralph that
"everything was all right and he would be up and around the house in no time at
all" is deceptive, as his condition is terminal, although he does not yet
realize it.

The ANA Standards of Clinical Nursing Practice states that clients should be
educated about ther illness, which is subsumed within Standards of Care (p3).
In Standard V-Ethics (p15), measurement criteria #3 states that "the nurse acts
as a client advocate" and #5 states the "nurse delivers care in a manner that
preserves and protects client autonomy, dignity and rights".

The "Patient\'s Bill of Rights" cites somes cases that justify overriding a
patient\'s autonomy rights, however. Considering that Ralph has recently lost
his wife and that he is still working through his own grief may present a
morally compelling reason for withholding information and considering Ralph\'s
best interests. His emotional status may need to be assessed to assure that he
would not be suicidal or lose interest in the remaining quality of his life,
also to determine his ability to cope, before telling him the truth, and
prevention of harm overrides autonomy rights.

If I were involved in Ralph\'s care as his nurse, I would have great difficulty
with deceiving or withhold information from him, but considering the impact of
his wife\'s death, combined with the knowledge of his own inevitable demise, I
would take into consideration his emotional state first, as his advocate, and
work with his daughters in establishing a set time to inform him of his
condition, assuming that he has at least a few months to live. This will
hopefully allow the daughters more time to accept their mother\'s death and their
father\'s condition. We would have to agree not to lie to Ralph outright, but
to encourage him to participate in his own care as much as possible, as well as
perform his own ADL\'s as tolerated. By so doing, Ralph would be able to
maintain his dignity, his daughters would be placated, and a lawsuit hopefully


American Nurses Assoc (1991). Standards of clinical nursing practice. american
Nurses Publishing. Washington, DC.

Bandman, E. & Bandman, B. (1995). Nursing ethics through the life span.
appleton & Lange. Norwalk, CT.

Category: Science