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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 May 26; 334(7603): 1072.
PMCID: PMC1877936
Deceiving Patients

Ends never justify means

Timothy S Hinks, academic clinical fellow, respiratory medicine

The world has long known, and feared, the fallacy of consequentialism—claiming that ends can justify means— because ends simply cannot be predicted. We can never foresee the ultimate consequences of our actions.

In this world of increasing public scrutiny, it is beyond naivety to suggest the medical profession could espouse lying, without evoking a gross loss of trust in our profession, in our integrity or in the validity of any doctor-patient discourse, to name but a few consequences. How is the anaesthetist, busy drawing up her propofol, to weigh up all the chaotic, myriad future consequences of her lie against the benefits of relieving a few seconds' anxiety?1

Where will this all end? One has only to look across the former Iron Curtain, where I have taught communication skills to doctors, to witness how erosion of the absolute requirement for truthfulness leaves an irrevocable legacy of a deep and pervasive distrust of anything a doctor may say. And if doctors should willingly lie, why not other professions? Our bank manager perhaps? Our lawyer? Our politicians? Sokol's world is not one where I would choose to live.


Competing interests: TSH is a patient registered with a general practitioner in the United Kingdom, with an intrinsic interest in not being deceived by the medical profession during future healthcare interventions.


1. Sokol DK. Can deceiving patients be morally acceptable? BMJ 2007;334:984-6. (12 May.) [PMC free article] [PubMed]

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