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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Doctors Steal Time By Not Telling Truth




Consider Zhanna Cherkashenko, a 51-year-old St. Petersburg resident who suffered from cervical cancer. Like so many Russian cancer patients, she was left to die without ever knowing what it was that ailed her.


Her doctors never once mentioned the c-word to her. Instead, as reported in Friday's Moscow Times, they told her only that she was suffering from "women's troubles."


The Russian medical profession believes that it is much kinder to make up such generic diagnoses - to lie, in fact - rather than to startle patients by telling them they are suffering from such a frightening disease.


The burden of such knowledge may cause them to lose their will to live, so the argument goes, and prevent them from responding well to the treatments that are offered.


What the doctors do not take into consideration is how adversely a patient might be affected by not knowing what is wrong with him. Driven to despair in the futile search for an answer to their problems, patients may seek alternative treatments that may be more dangerous than a depressed state of mind.


There are plenty of charlatans around eager to promise a cure to anyone in exchange for a few hundred rubles.


This practice does more than just insult the patients' intelligence - treating them like little children who are not capable of making their own choices about how to live or die.


It also steals time from people who may have very little time left. Cherkashenko, for example, may have never had the opportunity to say goodbye to her family.


Rather than offer counseling, literature, or support groups - all common means of coping with terminal illness in the West - too many doctors maintain that ignorance is the best medicine.


This is not to say that psychology is completely ignored in the Russian medical profession. In the birth house, for example, women in labor are frequently berated for screaming in pain, or for taking so long, or for otherwise taking up valuable hospital space and time.


This tactic, presumably, is intended to make the women angry enough to find the strength to push out their babies.


Perhaps what the Russian medical profession needs is to take a closer look at the healing value of kindness and consideration.


To be fair, it's not just the Russians. Doctors in the West are frequently criticized for their heavy-handed approach to making decisions that can and should be made by the patient.


But if the physicians of the West are sometimes accused of acting like God, their Russian counterparts may, in fact, be elevated to even more exalted positions.