Caring by lying

Bioethics 35 (9):877-883 (2021)


Caring for loved ones with dementia can sometimes necessitate a loose relationship with the truth. Some might view such deception as categorically immoral, and a violation of our general truth-telling obligations. I argue that this view is mistaken. This is because truth-telling obligations may be limited by the particular relationships in which they feature. Specifically, within caregiving relationships, we are often permitted (and sometimes obligated) to deceive the people with whom we share them. Our standing to deceive follows from certain features of caregiving relationships. Specifically, they are relationships that involve obligations to promote a person's interests and values (and not simply their autonomy), that often permit us to assume the hypothetical consent of the person with whom we share them, and in which we are often entitled to act out of self-interest. Once we appreciate these features, we will be able to recognize that the truth-telling norms governing our relationships with loved ones with dementia do not represent a radical departure from our general truth-telling obligations, but are instead consistent with truth-telling norms that feature in other caregiving relationships. In addition, we will be able to understand why we may feel conflicted about lying to loved ones with dementia, even when lying is permissible.

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Jordan MacKenzie
Virginia Tech

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