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Ethics in Oncology: Truth-Telling

Tracy Borgmeyer, LCSW, and Wendy Walters, LICSW, OSW
Recorded on September 26, 2017

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About the Webinar

Truth-telling is an established tenet of ethics in the practice of Western medicine and in other healthcare disciplines, including oncology social work. The obligation to disclose information to patients forms the basis for informed consent. We generally acknowledge that in order for patients to exercise autonomy and to make sound decisions about healthcare, they need information about their medical conditions and treatment options. Patients may file formal grievances or take legal action when they believe information was withheld, leading to harm.

How do we respond to requests to withhold information from patients? Under what circumstances might it be acceptable or justifiable to withhold information? How might we respond to concerns that disclosure will bring about harm to patients, such as psychological or existential distress? How might we balance disclosure and other ethical obligations, such as non-maleficence and justice? We will examine truth-telling and disclosure in terms of historical paternalism, legal developments relevant to disclosure, and varying approaches to ethical dilemmas. We will discuss the role and expertise of oncology social workers to address the concerns of patients, families, and clinical teams surrounding truth-telling.

Learning Objectives

At the end of the presentation, the participant will be able to:

  • Understand the philosophical and ethical history of truth-telling.
  • Examine truth-telling within the context of hope.
  • Distinguish paternalism and clinical judgment about level of truth-telling


Wendy Walters, LICSW, OSW-C has been in direct clinical practice for the last 30 years, working with terminally ill patients and their families. She currently works in intensive care units with critical care teams as they meet with families to make difficult end-of-life decisions. Wendy has developed multiple programs, including a house-wide bereavement support program in the hospital, developing the Psychosocial & Spiritual Grand Rounds, facilitating and coordinating UAB’s chapter of the national Schwartz Center Rounds, and developing a monthly Ethics Case Conference series. She has served on the hospital’s Ethics Committee since 2009, taking over as Vice-Chair of the Committee in 2014, and ultimately moving into a fulltime ethics consultant position in December 2016. Ethics is and continues to be the primary focus of Wendy’s interest.

Tracy Borgmeyer, MA, LCSW is an Ethics Consultor for Mercy Health System, providing clinical ethics consultation for hospitals and clinics in southwest Missouri, northwest Arkansas, and southeast Kansas. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work and worked in oncology social work and palliative care for sixteen years before pursuing a Masters in Bioethics from Loyola University Chicago in 2016. She is an active member of both AOSW and the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH). Particular interests in medical ethics include the provider-patient relationship, advance care planning, ethics conversations in virtual care environments, and decision-making at the end of life.

Continuing Education Credits

Level - Intermediate
Participants will earn 1.5 CE credits upon successful completion of a quiz and a post-webinar evaluation.