Is it ever mercy not to tell someone they are dying?



Thank you so much for anyone alive out there that is able to read this. This is my first post on Catholic Answers. I’ve been following the forums seeking advice over the past year. I’m very thankful for all the good people out there including the many great priests that teach the faith well. I know the devil’s favorite color is gray and as the title goes I need to add some color to this subject. This is why I’m here in hope to know the truth. I don’t usually agree with forums and opinions as it seems to be a cluster of disagreement over and over again. I have to trust that there is such a thing as moral absolutes. I believe I’m in the right place. It is said: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

I know He is here…

I need help on this issue with a fallen away member of my family that is near death in the hospital. My uncle, who I haven’t had a good relationship with over the years is dying. I cannot truly speak for his faith alone. He has been baptized in the Lord from a Catholic Church. But from what I am hearing and have seen, the faith is gone. I could give specifics of this but I to a certain extent leaning towards this rationale. I know we should not despair the salvation of anyone and I must pray him and my family members. Some of the family members closest to him who communicate with the doctors specifically state that they do not want to tell him that he is dying or (close to it). They claim it will be better he didn’t know. It might upset him and then he will die they say. Is not fear of the Lord a good place to start without being crude about it? My uncle thinks he’s going home shortly and no one wants to speak out the truth. The truth that I feel could change things at the last moment. I feel hurt by this guilty silence that screams out. No one wants to talk about religion, no one wants to speak the truth. Everyone got together for his birthday today at the hospital. (Which by the way is a Catholic hospital) There was no signs of praying or concern so it seemed. Some of the immorality among my family members there disrespecting Christ. Laughing and carrying on as if they where hanging out at the bar hurts. Even comments were passed as laughable as “see you in hell” “save me a spot” were said as if to try to be cool with my dying uncle and others. His own daughter bought him playboy magazines to cheer him up. :eek: Yes, Seriously. All while good nuns and priest are roaming about the halls with the holy Eucharist. I really honestly hate this and perhaps this is why most of the family members on my mothers side don’t communicate with my fathers. How, I ask this can be so so so cold? I mean a man is dying obviously have respect for him. It was strange while singing happy birthday as if some where wishing him well into hell. Most visiting him haven’t seen him in 10 plus years, including myself. I showed my respects and told my uncle I loved him and went down to the chapel in the hospital to pray about this matter. After this, I step outside and get cussed at by a random stranger calling me a mother*( ) for no apparent reason? I’m here tonight up late disturbed by this. My mother and father who are close to me and the catholic faith all feel the same way. My dad really wants to say something to him but is scared he will cause a scene. His family members always seemed to ridicule him for his faith in Christ and speaking the truth over the years. I feel so stuck in the middle. Is it my place? Should I intervene? I asked myself that If I was going to know that I was going to be dead soon (and could be God willing) I could repent? Offer up my sufferings. All of which I should be doing right at this moment anyway…

I should stay up and pray at 1:25 am for a little more. But I’m here asking for help as I don’t have access to a priest at the moment. Is it ever mercy not to tell someone they are dying?

If anyone out there could help me pray for this situation, just a short simple prayer for my Uncle Rich, My family and all the trails the devil puts me through. God Bless.

In Christ



I believe that everyone has the right to know that they are dying. It’s not an act of mercy. It’s more basic than that. It’s an act of justice. That’s MY opinion. The part that I don’t understand is how everyone knows and the patient does not. The first question is who said that he is dying? Did the doctor say this? To whom did the doctor say this? Is there a wife in the picture?

If this uncle is your father’s brother and there is a wife in the picture or adult children, I would suggest that your father, as the brother, approach the other family members and talk to them about the issue. Sometimes people act this way, because they are having a very hard time accepting the truth that a loved one is dying. This is one of the typical behaviors that human beings assume in the face of death, to deny, to pretend that it’s not true. It may not be a lack of mercy as much as a very painful reality to deal with. The closest relatives: wife and children may need some help.

I also suggest that you consult the chaplain at the hospital. Every Catholic hospital has an office for pastoral care. There is usually a priest on call and a sister, brother or lay assistant on duty all the time. They are there for the families. You may want to find out where that office is and go down there and talk to them. They will help you figure out what is the right thing to do. That’s why they’re there. They are trained on hospital ministry. It’s a very specialized field of study within ministry.

You may also want to write the Sisters of Life in NY. They are experts on life issues or your diocese may have a Respect Life Office. They also help people find answers to these questions. You can call the chancery of the diocese and find out their number. The Respect Life Office will put you in contact with someone who does pastoral care of the sick, dying and their families.

You’ll do better there than here. I doubt that you will find many people here who are trained in pastoral care of the sick and dying and their families.

I will keep you and your family in my prayers.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


I had to face the same problem as you have had to do. I knew my brother 62yrs.old was dying of cancer. We all had to act like he wasn't going to die soon. It was his choice. I could tell every time I would talk with him that he didn't want to hear about him dying.

His wife had the same attitude. Recently a few days ago a nurse told my mom and sister that my brother was on his death bed and dying. They acted as if he wasn't dying.
I called and talked to his wife to console her but she was in a cheerful state of mind.
I didn't want to say how sorry I was that he was dying when she was in denial of the fact that my brother was going to die soon.

The last time I talked to her I asked if my brother had asked for a priest to give him the final blessing. She said, :NO"....then she said a hospital chaplain had gone to see my brother a couple of times. I hope that helped my brother to die a peaceful death.

He died yesterday night. I got the call this morning. I was glad that he wasn't sufferring anymore. But I feel bad that a priest didn't go give him the last rites. It really bothers me.

I called my Church to have a Mass said in his name this coming Sunday.

I am totally upset that there was time to call a priest to be at my brother's side when his time came to die. The wife knew and my brother knew that he was going to die but they never called a priest.
I feel soooo bad about that. I feel like I didn't have any say so or control.

My advise to you is to seek a priest to counsel you and how you feel about your relatives' attitudes. I guess they want your uncle to be surprised that he died. Meanwhile... they all think it is a good idea to keep the secret that he is dying. But you know what? I think he knows he is dying because he will start to feel his body parts shutting down and he will be aware on his final day of life and final hour of his death.
He is not dumb.... he knows his days are numbered. I am sure he prefers to go home to die. This is why he is acting all cheerful too.
I have a feeling that if you tell your uncle that he is dying everybody will jump all over you and never forgive you for telling your uncle. It is silly of them to feel that way but it is part of human behavior for silly people to blame someone. They may end up saying that your words killed him. See what I mean? A lot of people today like to hide their heads in the sand and not want to see the reality of death.
People use words like, he passed away, we lost a loved one, he went with God, he went to sleep forever, etc. They don't like to use the word die or death. I think your relatives are that way. You can't change them or your uncle's fantasy of thinking he is going to live longer. He may surprise you and live longer. Sometimes people do that too.

My comforting words to you is to just feel the discomfort you are feeling and know there is nothing you can do about it. All you can do is interview some of the relatives and ask them why they think they shouldn't tell your uncle that he is dying. The answers you may get is that your Uncle already knows he is dying.... so why talk about it.

With Sympathy and Empathy. I truly understand how you feel. It is terrible having to keep the secret that may not really be a secret. Lucy


I second calling the Pastoral Care office. I shadowed someone involved in hospital ministry this past week, and I was surprised to learn how much of what they do is mediation, either between family members, or family/patient, or family/medical staff. They should be able to help you.

I too believe everyone has a right to know they are dying, as far as such a thing can be known (doctors are not omniscient!). It can be a great gift to have the time to prepare for one’s death–to mend relationships, receive the sacraments, etc.

Prayers for you and all your family.


I agree also about calling the pastoral care office. When my sister was dying she blocked it out and didn’t want to deal with it. It made me sad and yes, I did call a priest to come and annoint her, but in the end she died the way she lived… in denial. It was her right even though I was not comfortable about it. I bet your uncle knows the truth. It is not your choice to make. You can continue to pray though.


Yes, this man has every right to know the facts, ALL the facts about his medical condition. I find it very concerning that his doctor is conspiring with his family to keep things secret. Unless this man is mentally incapacitated in some way, the doctor should be communicating DIRECTLY with the patient, and then notifying the family only with the patients permission.

The is a huge violation of a doctors responsibility to his patient and possibly even a legal issue. Maybe you should contact upper-management at the hospital and bring it to their attention?

ETA also wanted to add…I very strongly believe in the power of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, when prayed for the dying. Jesus specifically requested it to be prayed in the presence of the dying. I prayed this chaplet for my fil for years and he converted in the very end.



[quote="Janechantal53, post:5, topic:191982"]
I agree also about calling the pastoral care office. When my sister was dying she blocked it out and didn't want to deal with it. It made me sad and yes, I did call a priest to come and annoint her, but in the end she died the way she lived... in denial. It was her right even though I was not comfortable about it. I bet your uncle knows the truth. It is not your choice to make. You can continue to pray though.


Agreed on that.

And as for my personal experience, I couldn't be at my grandfather's side when he passed, but I did get a chance to talk to him over the phone. He couldn't respond as he was on a ventilator, but my family said he was conscious and communicating nonverbally pretty well actually. His brain was fine but his lungs were shot due to bacterial pneumonia and cancer.

Anyhow, my grandfather was a non-practicing Jew who had turned agnostic. For the record, my dad converted to Catholicism a few years ago... after nearly 25 years of being married to a my Catholic mom! Like I was saying, I said goodbyes over the phone and said I was praying for him and then, because I knew he might decide to "pull the plug," I told him he was obligated to fight. I told him that God wanted him to fight as hard as he could for life, to always go for life. I told him to know that it was OK to die, but not ok to give up on himself and his soul. My grandmother was a bit shocked since I never broached the topic of religion so as not to cause a scene, but my whole family was crying and apparently my grandfather shed a tear as well.

Obviously I don't know what happened to him; I hope he had a deathbed conversion, even to just a small re-embracing of his long abandoned conservative Judaism. But I do know that the doctors said he would almost certainly die that night since they were taking him off the ventilator (he had no hope of recovery of his pulmonary capacity) and yet he breathed on his own well enough to live until the following afternoon. Hopefully he took my last plea to heart, fought until he couldn't any longer and gave his soul to God. I like to think that he did, but I know that it's our obligation to at least broach the subject gently even if it would "cause a scene." Who cares about that? A person's soul is on the line.


Thank you for the replies. I believe you are all correct when you state to contact a priest who deals with these issues.

To elaborate more about the issue:

My uncle was one of those live free party drinkers most of he life. His wife honestly wasn’t really all there more on the mental side. I don’t believe they even lived together most of their lives. They have 2 kids that are in their upper 30’s. The doctor has been communication with his daughter with all medical issues. His heart isn’t pumping correctly without treatment and there are so many complications with his liver. From what I’m hearing it is the daughter who is more in denial and his sister siding with her not to say anything just let him go. Now, I honestly would think that it is common sense that you should when your body is dying. But, he is drugged on morphine so I don’t know it this is masking the pain to him. His daughter did bring in his will for him to sign, but I heard he questioned it as to why she was doing this? Her response was well just in case. So that should tell him alone one would think. I can’t help but to look at him and feel sorrow in my heart the pain he going through. I don’t understand why people want to hide the truth about Jesus Christ as if it’s a shame to talk about him in today’s society. I often wonder who it is behind making Christ a shame to talk about out of fear of offense. I truly see the two edge sword of the word of God. It is a battle against truth and lies, life and death…

I can really see the conflict going on in today’s society. Christ and Catholics get’s made fun of for no reason whatsoever for the sake of granting Satan’s wishes. It seems most people really just don’t care about life after death. It seems to me this world has turned very atheistic within the last 100 years. The battle is intensifying. To the man who been given more, more will be required. The climb to Calvary gets harder by the day.

God Bless.


Yes, satan is very powerful right now, but nowhere near as powerful as God. Don’t give up on prayer and don’t underestimate how powerful it is, especially in the hour of death.


Also to add, nobody should be bringing a will to sign to a patient drugged up on morphine who is facing death. This whole situation sounds really need to contact the hospital and ask about a patient advocate taking a look at this situation.


dfp42 are you in the US? Because here in the US this wouldn’t even be legal unless the person is mentally incapacitated and has a legal guardian.


Yes, this is in the US.

I see your point but also know I would very well get blamed or look down upon for caring about this issue to that extent by family members…

Death really does bring out the best of everyone.:frowning:


what I mean is, it’s illegal for medical information to be withheld from this man. who is telling the doctors not to tell him and why are these doctors going along with it?


Well to be honest, we don’t truly know if the doctors have told him the state of his condition or not personally. Is it required that a doctor tell the patient that he is dying and only predicts so much time he has left to live? If so do all doctors do this as a law? All we know is that the family members were alerted of his condition and most don’t want to tell him. Does that justify the doctor’s end? My mother is a nurse and said that yes, doctors tell the patients the conditions. If that is true, then I guess I don’t really need to worry so much about him not knowing.

I look at it as a patient who isn’t feeling so well and goes to a doctor to tell them they feel sick. The doctor knows very well the condition of the patient but says no everything is fine with you, take this pill and come back in a year. That person could very well be dead because the doctor failed to be honest. What would we call a doctor like that?

I might be over analyzing this situation and without knowing the facts I would be just guessing. But I’m sure this kinda thing happens all the time around the world.


[quote="shannyk, post:14, topic:191982"]
what I mean is, it's illegal for medical information to be withheld from this man. who is telling the doctors not to tell him and why are these doctors going along with it?


Personally, if the doctors are participating and going along with this scheme, a report needs to be made to the medical board.

I suspect this may even fall under elder abuse...withholding serious medical information from somebody so you can trick them into signing their will? That NEEDS to be reported. It really makes me wonder what else this family is trying to get away with....


I was with my sister when a doctor told her that further treatment was useless. We both left that office having heard different things. People hear what they want to hear. When my daughter had cancer she swears the surgeon never told her. He said that he did… The human mind has an amazing ability to protect itself. Your uncle could have very well been told. Sad. I will pray for you and your family.


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