Moral Dilemma – In Practice

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Here’s a moral dilemma that I experienced this week…

Mrs N, a middle aged housewife, opened up to me and told me her husband had been physically, verbally and psychologically abusing her for the past 12 years. He only let her take the car to come for her physio session; and she was supposed to go straight home afterwards. Mrs N had finally had enough of it all and wanted out. She wanted to go to the police station to get advice and report the matter. She asked me to lie to her husband if he called and tell him she’s still at her physio session.

Is the lie justified?

What would you do in the situation?

4 thoughts on “Moral Dilemma – In Practice

  1. Hi Alexa, I have been put in a similar situation a couple of times in my career – asked by a patient to lie to their relative for this sort of reason – and I must be honest and say that both times I felt comfortable agreeing to help, if required, in this way. I felt that telling a small untruth was totally justifiable in this circumstance, as enabling the patient to get the help/advice they need is much more important. However, I know that my sister would be very uncomfortable with this decision, and I’m pretty sure that she would say it is always wrong to lie, even in this context. What did you decide? And do you feel comfortable with your choice?

    • The situation as I put it up seems relatively simple for most people, that the lie would be justified.
      But a few more details might influence some people’s decision:
      Mrs N is an alcoholic.
      She has an eating disorder and seems to be a compulsive liar.
      She’s admitted that she’s hit her husband back on occasion.
      Would you still lie for her?

      • Well I wouldn’t blame her that she’s turned to alcohol and having so many problems with her own image. She’s been abused for so long. The fact she wants to make a change is a enormous step forward. She seems to have admitted she has problems, which again is a huge step for her.

        Maybe, we can help her in the hope that her going out and doing something about her injustice will cause her to change herself for the better. That is something I have experienced first hand. But unfortunately, she might not have the courage to change, like so many women who get abused.

        Not helping her would be another injustice to her. It’s saying: “I don’t have the hope that you will get better.” and that for me is too heartbreaking to do. We need to support these women, because they can change if they have the support they so desperately need. As physiotherapists, emotional well-being should also be important to us as it affects the physical in a huge way. We are not equipped to deal with this but we can support and encourage the positive behaviour, as well as refer as necessary. Any perhaps, we could work out another solution to protect the woman if her husband phones that is more morally appropriate.

      • Well said Kristin!
        I completely supported her decision and wanted to help in whichever way I could. She was feeling paranoid, as if her husband knew what she was doing. I calmed her down but didn’t say I’d lie to him if he called. My solution was to cut her treatment short so she could go to the police during her Physio session.
        It turned out that he didn’t call either (thank goodness), but I feel comfortable with how I handled it. I’m pleased to report that she did report it, she came for Physio today and looks a different person. She’s agreed to go for counseling so it’s looking good!

        We can never fully separate emotions from physical pain. So yes Kristin I agree we should always look at the complete picture.

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