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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Facts may be sacred, but white lies have their place

Rika Kayama (Mainichi)

The term "fact check" is in vogue. It means to thoroughly check the veracity of statements made by influential politicians and others via television and social media. When I watch shows about U.S. current events, the people on them often say things like, "What the president said there isn't a fact," or, "I think we can say this statement is a fact."

    That the world of politics treats the truth with importance is obviously a good thing. But what about in our daily lives?

    For example, in the medical world I inhabit, it's become standard recently to "tell the truth to patients." In the past, even if a patient had stomach cancer, doctors might say, "You've got stomach ulcers, so let's remove them with surgery." Now it's different.

    These days, while showing a patient images from an endoscopy, we clearly say things like, "What you can see here is a malignant tumor, or cancer. Our CT scan seems to show it has not metastasized. I think it would be good to operate on the stomach, and remove three-quarters of it. How do you feel about that?" I've heard that some people's minds have gone blank at the shock of suddenly being presented with information like this.

    I remember in the past when a doctor senior to me commented, "Is it alright to provide the facts, whatever the circumstances? In the past we often talked about 'white lies.' If the patients are much older or seem of a weak constitution, isn't it OK to just say, 'It was benign so you've got nothing to worry about'?"

    At the time, we told them, "That's bad. We must tell people the truth." But as I slowly advance toward becoming a senior myself, I've come to think that perhaps if I had a terrible illness, I would prefer to be told a white lie.

    But though I say that, the shift toward respecting the importance of facts would remain unchanged. If examinations by artificial intelligence become widespread, then results could be delivered by email and other means. But I would prefer such messages didn't include things like the chances of a disease's returning, or how long a person is expected to live with it.

    Outside of the world of medicine, there are probably many instances where people worry about how to tell others things when they feel the truth will hurt. There are definitely people who've said something other than the truth out of consideration for others.

    In the political arena then, use facts. But in our lives, I want people to allow themselves a little room to tell white lies. Is it too selfish to say that?

    (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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