Medical Ethics: The Truth Be Told.


“We're having a little problem with lying at my house: My son won't do it”. "Do you like my new car?" asks his work colleague. My son is paralyzed into muteness by his conscience. His friend is hurt.  "Couldn't you find something nice to say about it, like the colour?" I ask. I am thinking of the story about Judy Garland, who, after seeing a pal in a terrible play, swept into her friend's dressing room with the line, "How do you do it, my dear, night after night?"

The philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that truth-telling is a "perfect duty," one so basic that it cannot be overridden by other values—not even saving the life of a friend, let alone sparing someone's feelings. In Kant's formulation, if asked outright, a person would be obligated to tell a murderer the whereabouts of his intended victim. Of course, many have responded to Kant with penetrating philosophical counter-arguments

Philosophers Maguire and Fargnoli use Kant's stance on lying to explore the limits of the quest for universal moral principles. "Universalization is an unrealistic and inaccurate abstraction that passes over the fact that there are exceptions to valid moral principles," they write. "To protect other values, like the life of an intended victim or a legitimate secret, exceptions to truth-telling must be made."

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