Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 403–409 | Cite as

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

Telling the Truth About Paternity in Saudi Arabia


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 


  1. Abudabbeh, N. 1996. Arab families. In Ethnicity and family therapy, 2nd ed, ed. M. McGoldrick, J. Giordano, and J.K. Pearce, 333–346. New York: Guiford.Google Scholar
  2. Abu-Odeh, L. 1996. Crimes of honour and the construction of gender in Arab societies. In Feminism and Islam: Legal and literary perspectives, ed. M. Yamani, 141–194. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
  3. Al Abed, I., and P. Hellyer. 2001. United Arab Emirates: A new perspective. London: Trident Press.Google Scholar
  4. Al-Krenawi, A., and J.R. Graham. 1999. Gender and biomedical/traditional mental health utilization among the Bedouin-Arabs of the Negev. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 23(2): 219–243.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Davies, H. 2008. Constituting family: Children’s normative expectations and lived experiences of close relationships. Ph.D. diss., University of Warwick.Google Scholar
  6. Edwin, A.K. 2008. Don’t lie but don’t tell the whole truth: The therapeutic privilege—is it ever justified? Ghana Medical Journal 42(4): 156–161.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Griffiths, P. 2006. Being a research participant: The nurse’s ethical and legal rights. British Journal of Nursing 15(7): 386–390.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Lucassen, A., and M. Parker. 2001. Revealing false paternity: Some ethical considerations. The Lancet 357(9261): 1033–1035.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Lucast, E.K. 2007. Informed consent and the misattributed paternity problem in genetic counseling. Bioethics 21(1): 41–50.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Nahas, M.K. 1954. The family in the Arab world. Marriage and Family Living 16(4): 293–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ross, L.F. 1996. Disclosing misattributed paternity. Bioethics 10(2): 114–130.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Sahih al-Bukhari. 1993. No. 6368. Saheh by Abu Hurairah, narrated by al-Bukhari. In Book of Fara’edh, by al-Bukhari, Dar Ibn Katheer.Google Scholar
  13. Sev’er, A., and G. Yurdakul. 2001. Culture of honor, culture of change. Violence Against Women 7(9): 964–998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Wright, L., S. MacRae, D. Gordon, et al. 2002. Disclosure of misattributed paternity: Issues involved in the discovery of unsought information. Seminars in Dialysis 15(3): 202–206.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abdallah A. Adlan
    • 1
  • Henk A. M. J. ten Have
    • 2
  1. 1.King Abdullah International Medical Research CentreKing Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health SciencesRiyadhSaudi Arabia
  2. 2.Centre for Healthcare EthicsDuquesne UniversityPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations