Disclosing Information: Is It Okay for Nurses to Lie?

A larger proportion of nurses and medical officers cannot tell the truth and keep asking themselves when it is appropriate to lie or tell the truth to their patients. Nursing veracity is a nursing virtue with numerous criticisms because the medical practitioners may need to lie to solve dilemmas or save a patient from unnecessary distress (Sokol, 2007). Similarly, It is morally unacceptable for nurses and doctors to intentionally lie to their patients because they take an oath to be truthful to their patients during their professional interactions and avoid engaging in fraudulent activities (Nasrabadi et al., 2020). However, one can argue that a doctor may use deceptive techniques without undermining the patient’s autonomy because it may erode the patient’s trust. Still, some situations force them to deceive the patient to save them from physical and emotional suffering, which could supersede the preservation of autonomy.

Nurses lie to save their patients from unnecessary concerns that may delay their recovery process leading to poor medical outcomes, in the case of a 70-years old diabetic patient with an ulcer on the left toe following a below-knee amputation (BKA). Because of the depression and hopelessness, the nurse decided to tell a lie about the cell culture results that it is unclear whether the results referred to the BKA or the toe growth. As a result, the nurse placed an infection notice on the patient’s bed to reduce the fear of loss of the other leg. However, the results confirmed that the infection was on the left toe and required a BKA of the left leg. During the ethics committee, the patient explained that he understood why the nurses lied, but it would have been easier to explain that the infection was only on the toe because he was worried that it was a worse infection (Nasrabadi et al., 2020). Thus, telling the truth is about figuring out the right time to disclose when it is too apparent and avoid further harm to the patient.

Nurses lie to maintain the deception from the physicians who asked for the disclosure of information. For instance, a nurse admits a patient from the surgery with records showing that the patient has metastatic colon cancer. However, after consultation with the family, the physician advises the nurse and other staff to hide the diagnosis until the patient is on antidepressants because of a history of depression. After the surgery, the patient kept asking the nurse what the results indicated. Besides, the family is becoming impatient and keeps asking the nurse when the truth will be disclosed. Thus, the nurse feels trapped between the patient’s requests and the physician’s plan because the patient has a right to know the health condition. In this case, the ethical question is if the nurse should be put in an awkward situation to lie against her will to stick to their responsibility? (Sokol, 2007). Thus, lying compromises the nurse’s ethics and puts them in a situation that requires them to commit a benevolent deception to protect the patient from the trauma of bad news.

It is unacceptable for nurses to lie to their patients unless lies can save the patient from physical and emotional suffering, delay the recovery process, and benefit from preserving autonomy. In the two cases, there is a violation of the patient’s benevolence. The motives are good because the nurses wanted to protect the patient from trauma. However, the nurses need to understand the accurate judgment that is better for the patient and justify the deception. In the case of amputation, the deception spared the patient the agony of anticipating another amputation. Similarly, in the case of the colon cancer patient, the disclosure required a calculation of consequences that favor nondisclosure. Thus, it is not okay for nurses to lie, but they can delay disclosing information as they wait for the right time to pass the information with minimal consequences.


Nasrabadi, A., Joolaee, S., Navab, E., Esmaeili, M., & Shali, M. (2020). White lie during patient care: a qualitative study of nurses’ perspectives. BMC Medical Ethics, 21(1). Web.

Sokol, D. (2007). Can deceiving patients be morally acceptable? BMJ, 334(7601), 984-986. Web.