I'm a nurse.  Last night, a very frightened 91 year old woman who had a fracture in her spine was crying and praying that she would heal and not die from this.   She asked me point blank if I believed in god.  I lied and said yes.  

Its still bothering me.  I felt violated in a way, having to lie but what else could I have done?   She was very sharp mentally, and obviously struggling with her faith, asking me why god was letting her suffer in pain.    I tried to change the subject and reassure her that she would get better from this and that was the truth, which it is.   She was actually feeling sicker than she is..   Still, did I do the right thing?    I still feel like such a traitor to myself and I know I'm going to be faced with this again, some time.   Though I hate discussing my personal beliefs with patients, they often ask me what I believe.

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When you're in that situation when the last thing a person needs to hear is that everything they know about the universe is wrong -- it's ok to lie. You know it's not true, you're not trying to convince her it's true, you're just reinforcing a misconception that that woman really needed reinforced to get through her pain.

It is a bit of a moral quandary, but I would have done the same thing.
I don't thing it's so bad. I mean mental attitude is an important part of healing, so shattering her belief system at such a time probably isn't in keeping with the Hippocratic oath. Even though she's going to get better, I'm reminded of that scene from The Invention of Lying.

Lies can be comforting. The only downside is that when she recovers she'll likely attribute her recovery to god and not to the doctors who actually did the work. That's unfortunate but it was a very delicate situation.

Worry less about right and wrong, you did the compassionate thing.




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