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argive99

The Ethics Of Lying To A Dying Person

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Here is a link to a Barbara Banden Story she posted at SoloHQ:

http://www.solohq.com/Articles/Branden/Mot...h_Dignity.shtml

To sum it up, she tells how after she was seperated from Nathaniel Branded, her mother was dying. Basically on her death bed, her mother whished that she and Nathaniel were together again. So she and Branden staged a visit to her mother where they pretended to be reconcilliated for the mother's sake. She said she told Ayn Rand who supposedly said, "I would have done the same thing."

What to make of this? In the comments section of the post, an Adam Reed makes the point that this is not an immoral lie because of the context of her mother's illness. He then throws an insult at all those who think it would be immoral by calling them "intrinsicists".

I would like to get a sense of what people here think of this. For me, it illustrates the ease with which Nathaniel Branden will deceive and his skill at lying. For my part, I can't understand why Barbara Branden couldn't just tell her mom the truth, but phrase it positively such as, "we are still seperated mom, but its for the best, because this way we will both be free to find much more fulfilling romantic relationships."

Would that have been so hard?

Edited by GreedyCapitalist

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Personally, I find the thought of lying to an old, dying woman to be perfectly disgusting, and that is not an intrinsicist position.

It is NOT proper to lie in order to gain a benefit, (satisfying your mother's wish, in this case) but only to protect oneself from the irrational, specifically, those irrational individuals who are attempting to use your honesty to damage you.

The reason that honesty is a virtue is that a rational man understands that any benefits gained through lying are not actually benefits; they are potential THREATS to his future well-being, and doing it anyway because you are expecting the recipient of the lie to die before that might happen is downright despicable.

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Hal    0

Given that she was going to die, I think their actions were correct. Morality is fundamentally a tool for living and achieving happyness, therefore these have to be the guiding principles behind any moral judgement. It is wrong to lie under normal circumstances, not because lying is an inherantly immoral act, but because the falsification of reality is likely to have negative long-term consequences (such as the person realising they have been deceived). However, it doesnt seem very probable that this would apply here - she is going to be dead very shortly, and it's a straight choice between 'should I make her happy, or not?'.

The reason that honesty is a virtue is that a rational man understands that any benefits gained through lying are not actually benefits; they are potential THREATS to his future well-being, and doing it anyway because you are expecting the recipient of the lie to die before that might happen is downright despicable.

Why? If lying is wrong because of the potential threats to someone's future well being, then surely the fact that they dont actually HAVE any future well being prevents lying from being wrong?

Edited by Hal

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Lying is wrong because of potential threats to one's own personal well-being, not the well-being of the lie's VICTIM; a "benefit" gained by lying is no benefit.

You cannot MAKE someone else happy, even in the short term, and surrendering to someone else's wishes and whim-worship under ANY circumstances is a far greater violation of principle than dishonesty; it is an attempt to deny identity!

Respect for the dying can rightfully entail such things as not making accusations (it won't accomplish anything), but the fact that someone is dying does not entitle them to have reality rearranged to satisfy their whims. What kind of respect for a human being is THAT?!

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Hal    0
Lying is wrong because of potential threats to one's own personal well-being
But where are the threats here? There are no obvious ones, and any speculation about what 'could' go wrong (such as a miraculous deathbed recovery) would be entirely arbitrary.

You cannot MAKE someone else happy, even in the short term
I find this confusing - are you using 'happy' in a specialised sense? In the example given, telling her that you are back together WOULD make her happy. Someone could make me happy in the short-term by giving me $1000.

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The argument for lying to her seems to be that it will ease her suffering in the short run, and that's all she has. So, since the morality of lying is contextual, this instance would not be immoral because it is not harming anyone and instead relieving another person's pain. That's the argument Hal and Adam Reed (from Solo's forum) are putting forth. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

I'm undecided on this. My emotional reaction matches JMegan's. I don't see how lying to her mom was neccessary and further, I don't see why the "value" that the lie bought could not have been achieved in another way. Also, I think alot of this would depend on the type of person the mother was. If it were me on the death bed, I would not want to be lied to, for I would know that faking reality could not bring genuine happiness. But if Barabara's mom was not that integrated of a person, then maybe the lie could be justified. Although I still don't think that it was the ideal way to handle things.

But I still find it interesting that Nathaniel was so easily led into a situation where he not only lied, but put on a whole show. To me, this says so much about his character (or lack thereof). Betsy Speicher referred to him as a "snake oil salesman". Now I know why.

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Hal    0
That's the argument Hal and Adam Reed (from Solo's forum) are putting forth.
Yes

I'm undecided on this. My emotional reaction matches JMegan's.
My immediate reaction was 'no, this is wrong', but then after a few minutes thought I reached the conclusion that I couldnt justify this.

I don't see how lying to her mom was neccessary and further, I don't see why the "value" that the lie bought could not have been achieved in another way.
Perhaps it could have, but the question is - what is wrong with THIS way?

Also, I think alot of this would depend on the type of person the mother was. If it were me on the death bed, I would not want to be lied to, for I would know that faking reality could not bring genuine happiness.
What is the difference between 'genuine happyness' and 'ungeniune happyness' here? You would feel the exact same after the lie as you would feel if they had actually got back together.

But I still find it interesting that Nathaniel was so easily led into a situation where he not only lied, but put on a whole show. To me, this says so much about his character (or lack thereof). Betsy Speicher referred to him as a "snake oil salesman". Now I know why.

His conduct seemed strange. But, if he still cared about Barbara and her mother, perhaps he felt that the benefits to them justified taking time out of his life. If I was on good terms with an ex-girlfriend and harboured no pent-up resentment or romantic feelings towards her, I would probably do the same. I'd class it as helping out a friend. Edited by Hal

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My emotional reaction matches JMegan's.

It was not an emotional reaction. My initial response was along the lines of "huh?" Then I thought about it, and came to the reasoned conclusion that this kind of behavior was wrong. THEN I got furious.

Furious came last.

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Here is a link to a Barbara Banden Story she posted at SoloHQ:

http://www.solohq.com/Articles/Branden/Mot...h_Dignity.shtml

To sum it up, she tells how after she was seperated from Nathaniel Branded, her mother was dying. Basically on her death bed, her mother whished that she and Nathaniel were together again. So she and Branden staged a visit to her mother where they pretended to be reconcilliated for the mother's sake. She said she told Ayn Rand who supposedly said, "I would have done the same thing."

What to make of this? In the comments section of the post, an Adam Reed makes the point that this is not an immoral lie because of the context of her mother's illness. He then throws an insult at all those who think it would be immoral by calling them "intrinsicists".

I would like to get a sense of what people here think of this. For me, it illustrates the ease with which Nathaniel Branden will deceive and his skill at lying. For my part, I can't understand why Barbara Branden couldn't just tell her mom the truth, but phrase it positively such as, "we are still seperated mom, but its for the best, because this way we will both be free to find much more fulfilling romantic relationships."

Would that have been so hard?

A similiar scenario (and perhaps more compelling; more difficult for the don't-ever-tell-a-lie camp):

******

You have a young a child who's been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He will die soon, and knows this is going to happen to him. He is absolutely terrified, miserable, depressed and unhappy. He wants to know if he'll go to heaven when he dies. What do you tell him?

******

I've been told that some psychologists (can't vouch for the veracity of this but it makes sense) say that terminally ill children are helped considerably, if they are told they'll go to heaven (and soon see their parents) when they die. If they are not told they'll go to heaven and be with loved ones, they will be in utter fear and misery until their death.

Now we can debate whether in fact this lie would ease their fear (again, I would tend to think it would). Instead, I'd like to concentrate on the moral issue given the assumption that it would alleviate their fears. Should we or should we not tell them this myth?

As for me, without having given it a tremendous amount of thought, my "gut reaction " is: it would be simply monstrous to tell your dying child that he isn't going to heaven and will simply "disappear" when he dies (or some other similiar "truth"). I can think of a few reasons why it would be moral and appropriate to take such a course, but I'll open it up for comments from others before I dive in.

Any thoughts?

ps, I'll just add that we should guard against being rationalistic in morally deducing the meaning, nature, and application of honesty. I fear that Objectivists can exhibit such tendencies quite frequently; especially when they are relatively new to the philosophy.

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It was not an emotional reaction.  My initial response was along the lines of "huh?"  Then I thought about it, and came to the reasoned conclusion that this kind of behavior was wrong.  THEN I got furious.

Furious came last.

By "emotional" or "gut" reaction I meant the process you just described but done quickly. But your point is well taken.

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As for me, without having given it a tremendous amount of thought, my "gut reaction " is: it would be simply monstrous to tell your dying child that he isn't going to heaven and will simply "disappear" when he dies (or some other similiar "truth").

I wouln't disagee with you here, but there is a difference between a child and an adult. If the mother knew that the couple was irreconcilable then lying to her would seem to be disrespecting her. If she truly fealt the two of them "belonged together", then at that point in her life I can see the reasoning that it would be too painful to tell her the truth and rob her of a possibility for one of the last pleasures she's likely to receive.

I guess the moral of the story is that honesty is contextual.

Edited by argive99

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I find this entire story bizarre. Why would it be so important to Barbara Branden's mother to see her and Nathaniel back together that they would be willing to put on an act for her?

It appears that purpose of relating this story now is an attempt to sling some mud at Ayn Rand for allegedly saying "I would have done the same thing," thus spurning debate among Objectivists, as shown in this thread.

If she already doing damage control over the upcoming release of this book, there must be some pretty damning things about the Brandens in there.

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I find this entire story bizarre.  Why would it be so important to Barbara Branden's mother to see her and Nathaniel back together that they would be willing to put on an act for her?

It appears that purpose of relating this story now is an attempt to sling some mud at Ayn Rand for allegedly saying "I would have done the same thing,"  thus spurning debate among Objectivists, as shown in this thread.

If she already doing damage control over the upcoming release of this book, there must be some pretty damning things about the Brandens in there.

This is actually what I was getting at with the post. I have actually come to agree with the decision to lie in this scenerio but B. Branden's reason for telling the story is just as you suggested, to attack Valliant's book and to portray N. Branden as compassionate and Ayn Rand as "less than perfect." Even though I have come to agree with the arguments put forward excusing lies told to relieve suffering, my guess is that Barbara could have just as easily told her mother the truth and not caused her any great pain, but that this whole tale is a sob story to illicit compassion for Nathaniel and disdain for Rand, or at the least to show Rand was a "moralizing" hypocrite.

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I've been told that some psychologists (can't vouch for the veracity of this but it makes sense) say that terminally ill children are helped considerably, if they are told they'll go to heaven (and soon see their parents) when they die. If they are not told they'll go to heaven and be with loved ones, they will be in utter fear and misery until their death.

Do you have any kids of your own, Gabriel_S?

I've been told by psychologists that you shouldn't tell young children what death is (or that they're adopted, or where babies come from . . .) because they're too young to deal with the "complexity" and it will only make them confused/afraid/be bad for them.

First, I continue to think it's heniously wrong to lie to a child regarding even his or her own impending death. And, telling the truth will NOT necessarily produce this horrible fear reaction.

What WILL absolutely produce that reaction in a child is if the child's parents are unable to control their own emotions. Children are MUCH more sensitive to the obvious EMOTIONAL signs of fear, nervousness, pain, etc. from their parents than ANYTHING else.

What you must do for your child in that situation is not present an easy lie (especially if you don't believe it because your child will likely pick it up and that will only make things worse) but to control your emotions. I.e. you have to be an ADULT about it. If you don't want your child to be afraid and miserable, don't be frightened and miserable yourself. (It's okay to say that you are, but don't turn it into a threat . . . there's a difference between helpless weeping and saying, "I'm sorry, honey, but I'm going to miss you, so I'm sorry if I seem sad today, but you don't worry about me.) Focus on enjoying your remaining time together, on making it as happy as possible, on fighting the illness/injury with every ounce of your strength and inch of your determination.

THAT is the way to love one's children.

As a little addendum, I would like to point out that I said "Personally" when I was explaining both my reaction and my reasons for it. I actually COULD imagine a situation where it COULD be moral to lie to one's mother on her deathbed, however, personally, I wouldn't do it because I'm incapable of lying with a straight face. So I know better than to imagine it would accomplish anything.

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my guess is that Barbara could have just as easily told her mother the truth and not caused her any great pain, but that this whole tale is a sob story to illicit compassion for Nathaniel and disdain for Rand, or at the least to show Rand was a "moralizing" hypocrite.

Exactly, the fact that she is telling this story now says a lot more than the story itself.

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I wouln't disagee with you here, but there is a difference between a child and an adult. If the mother knew that the couple was irreconcilable then lying to her would seem to be disrespecting her. If she truly fealt the two of them "belonged together", then at that point in her life I can see the reasoning that it would be too painful to tell her the truth and rob her of a possibility for one of the last pleasures she's likely to receive.

I guess the moral of the story is that honesty is contextual.

I was mostly responding to the following sort of reaction as provided by JMeganSnow.

It is NOT proper to lie in order to gain a benefit, (satisfying your mother's wish, in this case) but only to protect oneself from the irrational, specifically, those irrational individuals who are attempting to use your honesty to damage you.

The reason that honesty is a virtue is that a rational man understands that any benefits gained through lying are not actually benefits; they are potential THREATS to his future well-being, and doing it anyway because you are expecting the recipient of the lie to die before that might happen is downright despicable.

and

Lying is wrong because of potential threats to one's own personal well-being, not the well-being of the lie's VICTIM; a "benefit" gained by lying is no benefit.

You cannot MAKE someone else happy, even in the short term, and surrendering to someone else's wishes and whim-worship under ANY circumstances is a far greater violation of principle than dishonesty; it is an attempt to deny identity!

Respect for the dying can rightfully entail such things as not making accusations (it won't accomplish anything), but the fact that someone is dying does not entitle them to have reality rearranged to satisfy their whims. What kind of respect for a human being is THAT?!

And while it is true, as you say, that there's a difference between a child and an adult, in these cases the difference is not (I think) the fundamental one. What is relevant here is that the person (of whatever age) is facing an impending and unavoidable death, and that a lie might ease suffering or actually make the dying person's last days/moments happy (or as close to that as is possible). And, if that person's happiness is of concern to you at all, then such a lie might be in the name of one of your highest values.

The categorical quotes I've included from JMeganSnow above, would apply equally to the case of the terminally ill child. If that reasoning is accepted, then I don't see how it makes a difference whether we are dealing with a dying child or a dying adult.

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And while it is true, as you say, that there's a difference between a child and an adult, in these cases the difference is not (I think) the fundamental one. What is relevant here is that the person (of whatever age) is facing an impending and unavoidable death, and that a lie might ease suffering or actually make the dying person's last days/moments happy (or as close to that as is possible). And, if that person's happiness is of concern to you at all, then such a lie might be in the name of one of your highest values.

You've sold me on this. I would lie in both cases.

But the Brandens are still grandstanding.

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You've sold me on this. I would lie in both cases.

But the Brandens are still grandstanding.

No doubt that BB is using this story for nefarious purposes. Despite the distasteful source, even a broken clock...

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What is relevant here is that the person (of whatever age) is facing an impending and unavoidable death, and that a lie might ease suffering or actually make the dying person's last days/moments happy (or as close to that as is possible). And, if that person's happiness is of concern to you at all, then such a lie might be in the name of one of your highest values.

We are ALL facing an impending an unavoidable death. Let's reduce this statement to principles, shall we?

You can MAKE someone happy by kowtowing to their wishes. " . . . a lie might ease suffering . . ." Why only apply this to the dying, Gabriel? You should make it your life's work to go around making people happy, since you apparently possess this power. In fact, it can't be done, and no circumstances can make this true. A lie is not anesthesia, and you do not owe MERCY to other men, you owe them JUSTICE.

Frankly I'm a bit alarmed by the automatic reversion to altruist principles here. The fact that someone is dying doesn't mean that anything you do to them is excused, it makes it MORE INEXCUSABLE to violate one's principles regarding that person.

If you concluded, after many years of abuse, that your mother was an evil woman and you wanted nothing to do with her, would you go and tell her you loved her because she was dying? It would make her happy, wouldn't it? It would ease her suffering?

Or, do you want to take the cop-out and say, "her happiness doesn't matter to me so I'm not required to lie to her"?

Bah.

Let's do some illustration of how a rational, moral person would handle these situations:

Scenario #1: Your mother is dying and wants you to get back together with your ex.

"You were just so perfect together . . . I really wish you would get back together again . . ."

"I think it was really all for the best, mother."

OR

"Mm-hmm. Did the doctor say whether they were going to do anything about that catheter yet?"

OR

"Let's not worry about me right now."

Any and all of those are much better than having to humiliate yourself by going through this "act" and having to endure the ridicule of your ex, not to mention what would happen if your mom told one of your OTHER relatives "Isn't it nice that B and N got back together . . ." only to hear "WHAT?! They did not!" in response.

Scenario #2: Your child is dying and you think lying to them about heaven is somehow going to make them feel better.

I'm going to address this one with a blanket statement:

Why the HECK did you tell your kid that he was dying ANYWAY?! If they're old enough to understand and deal with the emotions, okay, but if they're so young that they don't already know something about the whole "heaven" idea yet?! That's just CRUEL.

If they ARE old enough to have some idea of what "heaven" is, they've probably asked you about it . . . are you going to tell them that what you said before was a load of shyte? Are they going to BELIEVE it? Yeah, THAT'S a great way to make your kid happy, "Daddy is a hypocrit!"

Not to mention triggering a possible fight with your spouse, or having an argument if the hospital sends their chaplain over, etc, etc, etc ad nauseum.

Principles are principles for a reason. The question you need to ask is not, "why shouldn't I lie?" but "why SHOULD I lie? Why SHOULD I violate my principles?" If the answer is something you can't do and can't be responsible for (making someone else happy, or gaining any kind of benefit!) then you're just fooling yourself.

It's a false alternative to imagine that the only two possibilities consist of lying or having someone else be miserable. Anyone claiming the title of an adult should have YEARS of experience in changing the subject, making mild equivocations, or just refusing politely.

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In Atlas Shrugged, it was the policy of the dwellers of Atlantis to accept reality at all times. They didn't tune out and ignore what was happening to the world around them--they corageously evaluated everything. Galt said essentially, "We will never fake reality and live in a delusional world." This was a central point in the work.

I think by agreeing with Branden's actions, Rand would be undermining this point. Although Rand isn't perfect, she seemed to really mean what she said about being realistic about reality--and for that reason I think Branden's claim was false.

Why the HECK did you tell your kid that he was dying ANYWAY?!  If they're old enough to understand and deal with the emotions, okay, but if they're so young that they don't already know something about the whole "heaven" idea yet?!  That's just CRUEL.

...

Principles are principles for a reason.  The question you need to ask is not, "why shouldn't I lie?" but "why SHOULD I lie?  Why SHOULD I violate my principles?"  If the answer is something you can't do and can't be responsible for (making someone else happy, or gaining any kind of benefit!) then you're just fooling yourself.

MeganSnow--I disagree. It's not about lying or not lying. Either way, you're covering up the truth. There is no difference between telling a lie and hiding the truth by telling nothing.

As for what I would do--in the case of the child--I have found happiness in rationality and reality and I believe the axioms of it are simple enough for a child to do so. In the case of the woman, I would tell her she's being delusional by caring about something that won't matter when she's dead. Both my solutions use total rationality and honesty to reach a good end.

Edited by valjean

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MeganSnow--I disagree.  It's not about lying or not lying.  Either way, you're covering up the truth.  There is no difference between telling a lie and hiding the truth by telling nothing.

Yes, there is. Otherwise, I'd spend my entire day walking up to random strangers and making bizarre pronouncements like "HI! I'M AN ATHEIST AND I THINK RELIGION IS BULL!!" "I FORGOT TO SHAVE MY LEGS TODAY!!"

Not telling everything is NOT lying, and there are quite a few things that no one needs to know. Think in terms of a court case; not volunteering info is fine (in fact, there's a constitutional amendment just to protect your right to do this) but lying is perjury and ANOTHER crime.

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"We are ALL facing an impending an unavoidable death. Let's reduce this statement to principles, shall we?"

This is hyperbole.

"Why only apply this to the dying, Gabriel? You should make it your life's work to go around making people happy, since you apparently possess this power."

Straw man and hyperbole. Gabriel made an argument about lying in a certain context. Don't think you can turn him into Mother Therresa and get away with it.

" A lie is not anesthesia, and you do not owe MERCY to other men, you owe them JUSTICE."

In the examples given, and lets just take those as they are, lying would be a form of anesthesia. It would alleviate the senseless added suffering of someone you care about.

Look, I could go on for pages too by saying "well why did you teach the kid about dying?" or "why didn't you raise him fully rationally from the start?". That's beside the point for purposes of these examples. You have a person that does not think with full integration. Both the child in Gabriel's example and Branden's mother have too much time invested in irrationalities. For these examples, that's sort of the point. To take time at these critical, life-waning moments to give an epistemology lesson would be cruel.

I think you are engaging in the very sort of intrincism that A. Reed warned of in the Solo thread. Now I say that with a sense of irony because I can't stand Solo or their posters!! My post was meant to show the treachery of the Brandens not to reinforce their stereotype of "dogmatic Objectivisits"!!

I could scream right now, but that would probably violate forum policy, so I'll leave it at that.

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