Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 403-409

First online:

The Dilemma of Revealing Sensitive Information on Paternity Status in Arabian Social and Cultural Contexts

Telling the Truth About Paternity in Saudi Arabia
  • Abdallah A. AdlanAffiliated withKing Abdullah International Medical Research Centre, King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences Email author 
  • , Henk A. M. J. ten HaveAffiliated withCentre for Healthcare Ethics, Duquesne University

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Telling the truth is one of the most respected virtues in medical history and one of the most emphasized in the code of medical ethics. Health care providers are frequently confronted with the dilemma as to whether or not to tell the truth. This dilemma deepens when both choices are critically vicious: The choice is no longer between “right and right” or “right and wrong,” it is between “wrong and wrong.” In the case presented and discussed in this paper, a research team in Saudi Arabia unintentionally uncovered information regarding misattributed paternity. In such a situation and in the context of a tribal cultural system, what should the team do with this information? This case analysis demonstrates the joint application of ethical resources originating from within and outside the Saudi Arabian context. The article analyses the case based on the moral problems involved, relevant medical application, and the impact of such information in the Saudi tribal and Islamic domains. The most pertinent relevant values and secular debates on similar matters are discussed. Finally, the article aims to provide an Islamic dimension of family, fatherhood, and adultery.


Islam Islamic culture Paternity Saudi Arabia Trust Truth-telling