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Dad Is Keeping His Health a Secret



"My father was recently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He and his doctors have agreed that treatment is futile and may only prolong his life for a short while. Therefore, Dad has decided against it. 

I’m not sure whether I agree with his decision, but that’s not the reason I’m writing. He has also decided not to tell anyone in the family. The only people he’s told are his children. He doesn’t want the grandchildren to know, or extended family or friends. 

I’m struggling with his decision to keep it all to himself. I don’t think that he’s being fair to others. He’s not giving them a chance for any kind of closure. The first some will hear of his cancer is at his funeral.

Is there any technique I can use to convince him to let more people into his inner circle? Do I just tell them on the side? I have not been willing to go against his wishes thus far."



Your father sounds like a very proud man who wants to keep his personal business to himself. There is no crime in keeping your health information private. In fact, the government has very strict laws that protect your health information from prying eyes. He most definitely has rights when it comes to confidentiality.

Yes, you can tell others about his disease, as you are not bound by the HIPAA laws, but it would be wrong to do so. He has decided only to disclose to a small circle of family members, and that’s his right.

I do realize that as your father’s condition worsens, it may be more difficult to avoid telling some family members or your employer, as his disease may affect your availability and lifestyle. Those changes in your routine will be noticed by others, no doubt. But I suggest, at this time, to avoid worrying about future dates. 

Take the near future to be present and supportive of your father. Accept his difference in perspective as best you can without too much judgement. He does have the right to decide how his health is managed and what information he gives to others about it, and you don’t have to agree with him. Feel free to present your thoughts once and then drop it. You likely have already done that.

As it relates to other family members, I wouldn’t give it too much thought. They’ll have opinions about his disease and whether he should have told them. But you’ll be able to say you respected his wishes.

We are all forced to accept the decisions our parents make even though we may not agree with all of them. That’s just part of living. At times we can influence their actions and at others, we can’t. I cannot say if your father’s decision is sound. I’m certain of only one thing: he wants to keep his health information confidential. I would honor his wishes.


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