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

Telling the Truth About Paternity in Saudi Arabia

A Symposium to this article was published on 22 November 2012

A Symposium to this article was published on 13 November 2012

A Symposium to this article was published on 13 November 2012


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.

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    Interestingly, Ross (1996) suggests telling the truth despite the opinion of the majority of her survey sample. She believes that this information is too serious to be hidden. Not telling the truth may lead to a series of un-favoured consequences.


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This article was prepared for ETH 512: Advanced Selected Topic KAIMRC, Master of Bioethics, 2010. The main instructors were Professor Amin Kashmeery and Dr. Ghiath Al Ahmad, both associated with the bioethics section of King Abdullah International Medical Research Centre (KAIMRC), King Saud Bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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Correspondence to Abdallah A. Adlan.

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Adlan, A.A., ten Have, H.A.M.J. The Dilemma of Revealing Sensitive Information on Paternity Status in Arabian Social and Cultural Contexts. Bioethical Inquiry 9, 403–409 (2012).

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  • Islam
  • Islamic culture
  • Paternity
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Trust
  • Truth-telling