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Physicians' Attitudes Toward Using Deception

Robert Baker, PhD; Virginia Dersch, PhD; Martin Strosberg, PhD; I. Alan Fein, MD; Lawrence Ponemon, PhD
JAMA. 1989;262(16):2233. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03430160051026.
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In the article entitled "Physicians' Attitudes Toward Using Deception to Resolve Difficult Ethical Problems," Novack et al1 raise more questions about methodology than about morality. The study is predicated on scenarios, half of which are analyzed in terms of the notion of "passive deception," ie, "nondisclosure, [or] allowing another to deceive, or failing to correct a misconception." This definition is standard neither in the philosophical literature nor in ordinary usage, and has the curious effect of making deception a transitive concept, ie, anyone who allows or agrees to deception can be said to be deceivers themselves.

Thus, in one scenario, the authors claim that physicians who merely "agree" to allowing a husband's deception of his wife are themselves "deceivers." In a second scenario, a version of the Robert John Denis Browne case,2,3 the authors characterize as (passive) deceivers physicians who decline to divulge to the mother of a


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The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
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