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Massachusetts Medical Society




Barbara Tuchman records that during the Black Death epidemic in the early 14th century, “doctors were admired, lawyers universally hated and mistrusted”. The great plagues and wars of the Middle Ages produced a “cult of death,” including a vast popular literature that had death as its theme. As the 20th century closes, our emphasis is on the denial of death, and the honest discussion of death remains rare both in popular literature and in conversations between physicians and patients. This is one reason why Shana Alexander shocked a national conference of bioethicists last year by saying, “I trust my lawyer more than I trust my doctor.” What she meant, she explained, was that she trusted her lawyer to tell her the truth about her alternatives and to execute faithfully the one she chose; she did not have this confidence in her physician, at least not if she were critically ill.


From The New England Journal of Medicine, George J. Annas, Informed Consent, Cancer, and Truth in Prognosis, Volume 330, Page 223 Copyright ©(1994) Massachusetts Medical Society. Reprinted with permission.

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