AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Journal of Ethics Header

AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Virtual Mentor. August 2013, Volume 15, Number 8.

Ethics Poll

Living with Cancer

The Ethics Poll is a snapshot of the opinions of interested readers.

The celebration of cancer survivors as "heroes":
Is an inspiration to all those who have cancer.
Contributes to feelings of failure for those who are not "beating" their cancer.
Neither.
Both.

Some terminally ill people for whom all FDA-approved treatments have failed want access to drugs that are not yet approved for general use by the FDA. Which of the following best expresses your opinion on access to unapproved drugs?
The terminally ill should have access to such drugs upon request; they have the right to take the risk since it is their only chance to live.
The FDA should decide who has access to non-approved drugs; it is the FDA's duty to protect all people--including the terminally ill--from undue risk.
No one should have access to non-approved drugs; it is not fair for some to have access and not others.

Jill is a 9-year-old whose acute lymphocytic leukemia is not responding to treatment. Jill keeps asking members of the medical team why she feels so sick. Jill's parents think that telling Jill her diagnosis would be bad for her mental health, which, they say, is crucial to her physical health. The care team disagrees, saying that most children know when they are seriously ill and when they are being lied to. And children who know their diagnosis are no more depressed than those who do not. Which of the following is the more ethical way to proceed?
Jill's parents should have the final decision on what their daughter is told. They can forbid the medical care team to tell Jill she is severely ill and to tell her the name of her disease.
Jill's parents cannot force the medical team to lie to Jill about why she feels so sick or, if she asks specifically, about the name of her disease. (To learn what ethics experts think about this question, see case 1 in the August 2013 issue of VM.)

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Poll results reflect the opinions of visitors to the site who voluntarily answer the poll questions. Those visitors do not represent a random sample of Virtual Mentor readers. The viewpoints expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.