"Although deception in medicine is generally wrong, as it tends to undermine patients’ autonomy and erode the trust between doctor and patient, the ethical duty to be honest is not absolute. Some moral goods, such as the avoidance of severe physical or emotional suffering and the preservation of life or long term autonomy, may over-ride the prima facie duty not to deceive. When a distressed mother asks if her beloved daughter suffered in her dying moments, or when on the operating table a patient with a ruptured abdominal aneurysm asks the unhopeful anaesthetist whether he will be all right, the usually strict need for honesty gives way to compassion and humanity. I acknowledge, however, that many readers will believe that doctors’ truthfulness, as a cornerstone of trust and respect, is an absolute requirement that allows for no exceptions."
His article includes a flowchart that can help doctors decide if deception is appropriate.
From Dr. Daniel K. Sokol’s article published in the British Medical Journal, Can Deceiving Patients Be Morally Acceptable? (Opens PDF file)>>
Daniel K. Sokol is a medical ethicist at Imperial College in London.