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When is a doctor's lie considered medical malpractice?

Do you remember the classic Bette Davis film from 1939 called Dark Victory? Modern viewers are often shocked to see the leading character's doctor lie to her after an unsuccessful surgery to remove a brain tumor because he doesn't want her to know that she only had months to live.

That kind of behavior would be unthinkable today. However, doctors do sometimes lie to their patients. It typically isn't so that they can live out their final days blissfully unaware that they're dying. The reasons may be considerably more selfish.

Maybe the doctor made an error they don't want the patient to know about. Perhaps they believe strongly in a treatment or procedure (or worse, have some sort of financial interest in it), so they fail to mention the potential side effects or inflate the success rate of it.

Does lying to a patient constitute medical malpractice? It may, if the patient suffers harm because of that dishonesty.

Doctors are required to get informed consent from a patient (or their parent or guardian) before any treatment or procedure. That means informing them of:

  • Their diagnosis
  • The purpose of the treatment or procedure
  • Alternative treatments or procedure
  • The risks and benefits of the various treatments or procedures
  • The risks and benefits of not being treated

Obviously, if a doctor lies or leaves out relevant information about one or more of these things, the patient can't truly give informed consent because they don't have the accurate information they need to make an informed decision.

Giving patients complete and accurate information is also part of the duty of care that doctors owe them. If a patient files a medical malpractice claim, a doctor's lie(s) could be considered "proof of fault."

If you believe that you or a loved one suffered harm because a doctor lied or failed to provide necessary information, it's wise to talk with an experienced attorney. They can determine whether you have a viable malpractice suit.

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