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argive99

The Ethics Of Lying To A Dying Person

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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.

Thank you. I feel that I've been mischaracterized by Jennifer. I don't quite understand the caustic hostility she's exhibiting towards me. It seems way out of proportion and misplaced. She's arguing against something I'm not saying, and then making a number of deductions from her strawman, and boatload of other errors to boot.

I was thinking of answering her but she seems quite unpleasant to deal with. Might not be worth my time and effort. I thought this forum wouldn't have such personality issues. Perhaps, I've misjudged it. My time might be better spent doing something else.

Anyway, thanks again for sticking up for my position.

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Ayn Rand did not agree that so-called "white lies" are moral. She had too much respect for reality.

WHY would ANYONE believe a word Barbara Branden says, given her history of dishonesty? Would you believe a Lillian Rearden biography of Hank Rearden?

From my Amazon review of Branden's trash-wallow "The Passion of Ayn Rand":

"This is not a true biography of the great philosopher. It is a vitriolic exercise in hatred, riddled from beginning to end with self-contradictions. For instance, Branden insists that Miss Rand as a child conceived a life-long neurotic fear of physical reality. Yet only a few pages later she describes the young Ayn Rand joyously climbing a mountain on a vacation in Switzerland ... and later in life, happily taking the throttle of a New York Central diesel locomotive!

"Branden did know Ayn Rand in person, and did conduct a series of biographical interviews with her, resulting in the publication of a biographical essay in the 1962 book “Who Is Ayn Rand?” In the later 1960’s they parted ways. Miss Rand went on with her vastly productive life, writing ground-breaking books that apply rational principles to the problems of living. Branden, on the other hand, turned Ayn Rand bashing into a pathetic career.

"... I had the pleasure of meeting Ayn Rand in 1971, and of seeing first-hand how gracious she was with her many fans. I found her a genuinely polite, warm, and considerate person, who seemed serenely at peace with herself.

"Can the same be said of her detractors?"

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Thank you. I feel that I've been mischaracterized by Jennifer. I don't quite understand the caustic hostility she's exhibiting towards me. It seems way out of proportion and misplaced. She's arguing against something I'm not saying, and then making a number of deductions from her strawman, and boatload of other errors to boot.

You try staying calm when someone says to you that you should violate the things you live by and destroy the principles that keep you alive. This may be a dissociated intellectual issue to YOU, to me, this IS MY LIFE.

I do not think the purpose of my life is to "ease other's suffering" and no matter HOW much I love them I would NEVER try to "protect" them from the necessity of recognizing reality whether they were going to die in two weeks or five minutes. Does this mean I would be intentionally cruel to them and jam it down their throat? No. It means only that I will not compromise on the PRINCIPLE that you cannot fake reality.

It's as simple as that. I hope my children have more respect for me.

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When I read the post about lying to a dying child, my 7 year-old came to mind. My first reaction was: "Ofcourse I would lie." As for my parent, my first reaction was: "No, I wouldn't."

After pausing to think about it, I realize that I only thought "Yes, I would lie", because that was the sole option presented, and my immediate feeling was: "if my child is dying I would do anything to lessen his pain". When I paused and thought about it, I realized that I would probably not lie.

I have never lied to my son. I would probably not lie, because I would not want to besmirch that memory. If I wanted to take him mind off the present, I might play "pretend" with him. He loves his "Creative Writing" lessons in first grade. We'd probably pretend about the interesting things like flying in rockets to Mars, and living on the Island of Sodor! I doubt that lying to him about some heaven or rebirth would have any happier effect.

Having said that, I would add that the context of someone dying is very different from someone undergoing any other type of suffering. Within this context, if I ever judge that lying to someone I love (or loved when they were "themselves" ) would ease their pain, even if it was by letting them fake reality in their last moments, I know I would do it. I do not think such a situation would arise; but, if it did I would.

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They are dying; you cannot ease their pain. All you can be is a rock for them to cling to, and the best way to do that is to be what you have ALWAYS been.

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You try staying calm when someone says to you that you should violate the things you live by and destroy the principles that keep you alive.  This may be a dissociated intellectual issue to YOU, to me, this IS MY LIFE.

I do not think the purpose of my life is to "ease other's suffering" and no matter HOW much I love them I would NEVER try to "protect" them from the necessity of recognizing reality whether they were going to die in two weeks or five minutes.  Does this mean I would be intentionally cruel to them and jam it down their throat?  No.  It means only that I will not compromise on the PRINCIPLE that you cannot fake reality.

It's as simple as that.  I hope my children have more respect for me.

Wow! Let me put this as delicately as I can: you're coming across as a little nuts.

First, for the record, I utterly disagree with you "argument," as presented. But, I'm not going to waste any more of my time and energy trying to communicate with someone of your demeanor. Whether something salvageable may be gleaned from your screed is really irrelevant because it's apparent that you aren't anchoring your abstractions very securely to reality. Perhaps, when you grow up, you'll learn to be a less bizarre caricature of the rationalism (and simultaneous emotionalism) that Dr. Peikoff warned against in his Understanding Objectivism course (a word of advice: you need to listen to it). Hmmm...rationalistic in method, and emotionalistic in tone; what a winning combination.

Second, young lady, you are being patently offensive and rude. If that's what you intended, congratulations - you've succeeded masterfully. As for me, I'm quickly tiring of this puerile banter and dogmatic moralism. Maybe this is the kids Objectivist hangout for the new and confused. Frankly, I'm a bit shocked that the other rational posters here are putting up with this sort of distasteful behavior (at least one did say something to counter your mischaracterizations). I wonder if this is the sort of thing that drove the Speicher's away? Is this why other good grad students and professors no longer post here? I'm beginning to see why.

I hope I'm not being too harsh in return. I really hate these sort of posts. Unfortunately, they are occasionally necessary. I think given the unprovoked bile aimed my way, in this case it's warranted.

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I just noticed that I have a 20% warn level associated with my account:

***********

"Wow! Let me put this as delicately as I can: you're coming across as a little nuts."

Possible ban candidate - needs further investigation.

***********

So now I may be banned?! I'm under investigation?! What the heck does that entail? Huh, banned for simply defending myself from attacks on my character. Banned for responding to attacks stemming solely from raising an issue. I really can't see how this is a just policy. (Reminds me of the Jr. High policy of suspending both participants in a fight - the attacker and the defender.)

So, is that how it works? If you defend yourself in kind (actually much more mildly than the attack), you'll be warned and possibly banned? Am I just supposed to take my lumps?

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I agree with JMeganSnow's points so far, and would politely suggest that the arguments for "lie-to-the-dying-to-ease-their-pain" seem to have become floating abstractions.

For example, consider Software Nerd's sincere-sounding statement: "...if I ever judge that lying to someone I love... would ease their pain, even if it was by letting them fake reality in their last moments, I know I would do it."

Fine. Now, what exactly would be an example of easing pain by faking reality? As hard as I think, I can't imagine examples where this would actually happen. Even the most contrived examples I can think of, sound blatantly like rationizations to the white liar, designed to allay the pain of enduring a loved one's death.

For example, I knew of a lady whose son committed suicide. The woman was Catholic, and evidently horrified by the prospect that her son's last act doomed him to hell. But her priest told her a white lie: the boy was sick -- he had a mental disease -- and was therefore not responsible for his act; he had not sinned.

This allegedly was supposed to help the woman deal with the pain of pondering her lost son domomed to hell.

I do not know in detail what the woman eventually thought, although I heard that she did not believe her son was "sick".

So consider what this white lie acheived: she was asked to internalize that her beloved son was "less" than she last remembered him (a lie), in order to avoid picturing him burning in hellfire (another lie; probably someone's idea of a white lie, taught to her in her formative years); but if she pondered the issue sincerely, perhaps to resolve the painful situation in her mind, she would likely conclude that the priest, far from being the principled bastion that she counted on, was a petty little sheister, avoiding dealing with the most important moral conflicts. Her likely recourse was to evade the situation beyond a certain point, in order to avoid the deception of which that the entire issue seemed to reek. And forever repress a gut-wrenching pain, because the lies were harder to resolve than the tragedy.

Perhaps I'm wrong and there's a concrete example that could change my mind, but considering that this whole thread started with an implausible and bizarre story about someone whose deathbed serenity could only be acheived by her daughter's miraculously reversed marital status...

I doubt it.

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Nicely said gnargtharst. I just wanted to add this:

The kind of person that you love would appreciate being told the brutal truth even in the most trying of situations. It would be the most beautiful way to affirm the love you have for them by not faking reality at all for them in the last moment they have to exist in the world. They would leave the world knowing that their love esteems them so much that to lie to them would be an affront, and betrayal of their love (even though such a lie would be convienient, since the person will be deceased and unable to do any fact checking).

In fact, such a scene would make for a powerful ending to a movie, book, play etc...

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Why would values break down because of the state of a persons health, and why would such a person find value in big lied to?

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I just noticed that I have a 20% warn level associated with my account:

***********

"Wow! Let me put this as delicately as I can: you're coming across as a little nuts."

Possible ban candidate - needs further investigation.

***********

So now I may be banned?! I'm under investigation?! What the heck does that entail?

Am I the only one who finds this whole business of WARN percentage and REPORT! notification on every post disturbing? :ninja: Doesn't this smack a bit of intimidation, censorship and communist-style reporting on your parents? I'm a bit new her, and haven't had any problems, and I really don't want vicious hateful trolls posting very much. But I tend to find this in-place system rather threatening to free speech and open discussion.

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Fine. Now, what exactly would be an example of easing pain by faking reality? As hard as I think, I can't imagine examples where this would actually happen.

...

Perhaps I'm wrong and there's a concrete example that could change my mind, but considering that this whole thread started with an implausible and bizarre story about someone whose deathbed serenity could only be acheived by her daughter's miraculously reversed marital status...

I doubt it.

- Terminally ill child/heaven case -

http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.p...indpost&p=78934

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Why would values break down because of the state of a persons health, and why would such a person find value in big lied to?

In certain circumstances, doctors may lie to post-op patients about their tenuous condition. They may tell them that they are doing much better than they are. Allegedly, lying to them about their condition increases the chances that they'll recover. The thought may be that if you tell a person how bad off they really are, they may give up, stop fighting and shutdown. On the other hand, if they're given some hope, they may be optimistic and struggle to live. And this, it is claimed, actually translates to either a better or worse prognosis (depending upon whether the doctor lies to his patient or not).

If the above is accurate (i.e., lying to a patient leads to a better prognosis), is it proper for a doctor to lie to a patient in this type of situation?

Note: I may not be recalling with complete accuracy the facts and rationale behind this scenario. It was discussed and debated in a Medical Ethics course I took over a decade ago.

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Am I the only one who finds this whole business of WARN percentage and REPORT! notification on every post disturbing?  :lol: Doesn't this smack a bit of intimidation, censorship and communist-style reporting on your parents? I'm a bit new her, and haven't had any problems, and I really don't want vicious hateful trolls posting very much. But I tend to find this in-place system rather threatening to free speech and open discussion.

It's a method of letting the mods know if someone thinks they've spotted a troll, is all. I personally haven't seen many people get banned; it usually only happens if the mods tell you to STOP doing something and then you don't. This forum is actually VERY liberal, and the mods are (generally) quite polite.

It's not censorship; they've provided the forum and we use it only if we conform to the rules.

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Why would values break down because of the state of a persons health, and why would such a person find value in big lied to?

Precisely Rational One. Any man (or woman for that matter) that has respect for the truth doesn't ask a question if he or she doesn't want to know the truth. The truth makes no exceptions. If I want to know something, that would be the reason I ask a question: to find out the truth. The simple situation of someone lying to me on my death bed just seems utterly mind-boggling as to why they think I would actually want them to lie to me.

If they did lie to me about something, it wouldn't make me "happy". My happiness does not come from other people and whatever they might happen to be doing with their lives. It might get, what.... a smile out of me? Who cares! I'ld be dead soon anyways!

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After adhering to SoftwareNerd's request that I observe a cooling-off period, I am, once more, going to present my logical argument for why it is immoral to lie to a dying person (or to anyone you care about).

Honesty is one of the six primary virtues of Objectivism. As it applies here, I provide these quotes for some context:

"Honesty" is the refusal to fake reality, i.e. to pretend that facts are other than they are.

The man who fakes reality believes that he or others can profit thereby.  The honest man does not believe it.  He does not seek to obtain any value by means of deception, whether of himself or others. In Ayn Rand's words, he recognizes that "the unreal is the unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud . . . "

An honest man may commit many errors, but he does not indulge in illusions, including the illusion that life requires illusions.  He does not pretend anything.

Intellectual honesty is more profound an issue than not telling lies to one's neighbors.  It means becoming a priest of truth in every aspect of one's mind, life, and soul

Dishonesty is a vice and a terrible one, just like the initiation of the use of force against other men is a vice. It is ONLY proper to use force in retaliation; to destroy the aggressor. Similarly, it is ONLY proper to lie in defense against those who are already in contradiction with reality; with the irrational, the immoral, the violent, the depraved, not against one's loved ones.

Presumably, if one loves another person, one loves what is GOOD in them; in the name of that, it is not appropriate to treat them as an enemy whose whims or potential whims must be assuaged.

I will now refute the many and various statements of my opposite number in this discussion.

First, the basic principles at work behind the idea that these scenarios represent some kind of good or moral benefit are, as I have said before, these:

1. It is possible to make someone else happy.

2. The happiness of other people is in some way your responsibility.

3. Other people's happiness can be achieved through falsehood.

4. Imminence of death is a metaphysical change of such a nature that it reverses the moral nature of the practice of honesty, turning a virtue into a vice and vice versa. (sic)

1. It is not possible to make someone else happy. Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy; it is the background state of a consciousness in full agreement with reality. You cannot provide this to someone else; you cannot supplant someone's consciousness, you cannot provide them agreement with reality, you cannot do their thinking for them. Anyone stating that "if you do this and this for me, it will make me happy" is guilty of a contradiction. What they actually mean is, "I would like reality to be this way, but I have no means of bringing it about myself . . . would you please recognize my whims as paramount and fulfill them?" Such an attitude precludes the very idea of happiness; it is a contradiction and an attempt to escape the necessity of making one's desires conform to reality.

2. As it is impossible to make someone else happy, imagining that it is in some way your responsibility to do something that is, in and of itself, impossible, means that the purpose of your life is to deny reality. Since one must live in reality, placing your life at odds with reality in this manner places it into the service of DEATH.

3. You cannot achieve even your OWN happiness through falsehood, what makes you think you can achieve someone else's happiness via this method?

4. The only fundamental metaphysical difference created by an impending death of one of the members of a relationship as regards lying is that it means there is little or no chance of the perpetrator of the lie being exposed and thus the lie being defeated by reality. If this principle is upheld consistently, it means that the metaphysical change converting dishonesty to a virtue that occurs makes it perfectly all right to lie to someone in order to, say, get a ten million dollar inheritance from them. The expected response to that statement would be "but that's greedy . . . I was lying to help someone else, not myself! If it's not for myself, it's good!" a la James Taggart. In other words, this bizarre reversal of causalty is motivated by ALTRUISM.

In return for my staunch and impassioned defense of principles, and not just any principles, but OBJECTIVIST principles, I have been called a rationalist, a dogmatic, nuts, an emotionalist, while the "gut reaction" camp has made no effort to actually rationally REFUTE my statements, offering instead only more and more concrete examples without identifying any underlying principles to be argued. Principles are necessary for making decisions and planning long-term actions; imagining that reality boils down to an endless series of "examples" each to be addressed in a vacuum, is an example of PRAGMATISM.

To now defend myself:

"rationalist": Rationalism consists of taking a point of your choice as a primary, a "given" and arguing from there without ever identifying the basis of your original point. I do apologize if I naively belied that another claimed Objectivist would not understand the rational basis of the derivation of the virtue of honesty. I have corrected this error in providing examples of it above.

"dogmatic": From The Ayn Rand Lexicon:

"A dogma is a set of beliefs accepted on faith; that is, without rational justification or against rational evidence. A dogma is a matter of blind faith.
I have provided reasons for every conclusion I have made in this thread; if I assumed some shared context by which my reasons could be evaluated, thus limiting the necessity of lengthy explanations, I have already admitted to being incorrect on this score. How does this consist of "blind faith"? If anyone had provided a REASON or a PRINCIPLE guiding their actions, that would be a different matter, but how am I to argue with a "gut reaction" and an endless series of "examples"?

"nuts": term is undefined, no defense is possible.

"emotionalist": emotionalism consists of SUBSTITUTING emotions for reasoned argument, not of HAVING them or expressing their existence. I do not think that I would be out of line to accuse BOTH Gabriel_S and argive99 of this practice; the first attempting to come up with ever-more-horrific examples in order to stave off the assault of reason, and the latter wavering back and forth on his stance and announcing that he is "about to scream" etc.

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I forgot that I was also referred to as an "intrinsicist" so let me add one final statement:

Intrinsicism is not an ethical standpoint, it is an epistemological one. As such, it consists of the idea that concepts (universals) exist seperate from and without the necessity of consciousness of any kind; it can take several forms, from the Platonic "ideals" whereby universals are said to exist in some mythical "higher" realm, or Aristolean "essences" whereby they are said to exist somehow "within" the concretes, physically confluent with them in some manner.

Intrinsicism leads logically to a mind/body dichotomy and a certain kind of ethics, wherein some actions are said to be "immoral in and of themselves". In the case of dishonesty, this would amount to the claim that it is ALWAYS immoral to lie regardless of circumstance.

This is not and has never BEEN my claim; my argument is that it is immoral to lie in the situations offered, because they do not represent the kind of metaphysical threat that might require one to lie, as I stated above.

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JMeganSnow

In your post you said "dishonesty is a vice...". It would be helpful for me to differentiate between dishonesty and lying. It seems there is a difference. Lying may be to gain a value, while dishonesty is not. Are these situations mentioned earlier in the thread lying or dishonesty? Are you gaining a value personally by lying to the child?

Edited by ex_banana-eater

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What, precisely, is the difference between dishonesty and lying? That's like saying there's a difference between "eyes closed" and "eyes shut"!

The situations mentioned in the thread are examples of both, and it was EXPLICITLY said that the justification for doing so would be to "make someone else happy", because "your loved one's happiness should mean something to you" i.e. in order to obtain a benefit.

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I have already responded to EVERY SINGLE ONE of your points, argive99, except one; the case of the so-called "placebo effect".

Let me point out that this is, as I have said, simply another example to which to apply the same principles. The example simply stresses further that a person's mood can affect their immune system.

Peachy. So, once again, you are assuming that lying is the only way to improve this person's mood. Whatever happened to bringing them flowers?!

If you want to refute my answers, refute the PRINCIPLES, don't give me ever more EXAMPLES. I have already stated the reasons why lying to gain a benefit is immoral, if you are incapable of comprehending those reasons or, for some reason you imagine reason is impotent in this case, then how on earth do you decide anything?

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This discussion has gotten way too personal and is not just about the issue, namely, about whether or not it is ever moral to lie to someone. Accusations of dishonesty etc. aren't needed. I've received three reports about posts in this one thread. Stick to the issues. If the conversation continues on the personal level, I'll be forced to report all of you to the Federal Elections Commission, since they have jurisdiction on all internet related commentary.

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Look, no one here is glorifying lying. The argument being advanced is that in some cases, a lie is contextually appropriate.

No one is arguing with this statement, which you would know if you had read any of my posts. I am presenting the idea that in THESE situations, lying is NOT justified.

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If the conversation continues on the personal level, I'll be forced to report all of you to the Federal Elections Commission, since they have jurisdiction on all internet related commentary.

Political commentary. I think on this subject of death you would have to report them to the Catholic Church. :lol::D

Edited by Rational_One

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Let try and chip in my two cents on the issue.

I think on the one hand Megan is advancing the ethics for man to live on Earth in non-emergency-like situations, and on the other Gabriel and Argive are arguing for a action taken in a somewhat emergency-like context. Emergency-like contexts must be addressed on a case-by-case basis, not with the ethics of "normal" living.

With this in mind, I don't think it's accurate to say that "lying is immoral in all contexts," though I'm not sure you're saying this, Megan. Now, I know you're tired of examples, but follow me on this.

Suppose you're a German in WWII housing a Jewish family in your home, protecting them from the Gestapo. Now, what if one day a Gestapo agent came to your house and asked "are you hiding any Jews?" Would you be honest and tell him "yes?" Of course not.

So what of the example of lying to a dying patient? I think we have to ask, is this an emergency-like example? If not, then I agree that lying would not be ethical.

My own thoughts are that the patient's health is best served, even if the "placebo effect" were valid, by telling them the truth. If the patient lives a life that's consistent with reality, then he would want to know his chances for survival. If he loves his life, he'll fight on so long as there's a chance he can win.

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