One of my closest friends is dying of cancer. He will leave behind a wife, an ex-wife and two children from his first marriage, both of whom are over 21. I’ve known him for 40 years, and I believe I am the only person in his circle of friends and family who knows that he has another child with another woman. That child is probably close to 30 now. My friend has had no contact with the child since birth and almost no contact with the child’s mother. This appears to have been the way they both wanted it.
When my friend’s cancer was diagnosed (a type that is almost never curable), I urged him to consider telling his children about their half-sibling. He said he would think about it. He’s now close to the end, and he has not done so. At this point, I don’t think he is capable of telling them.
He has asked me to be the trustee for the trusts he established for his two children, and I have agreed. So I will continue to be involved in his children’s lives for many years. I think the children have a right to know about their half-sibling. But obviously my friend did not want them to know, or he would have told them himself.
What are my ethical obligations? I am not going to lie if they somehow find out about the child through other means and ask me if it is true. But am I ethically bound to honor my friend’s wish that his children (and wife) not know? Or should I follow my own conviction that children have the right to know these things? Name Withheld
When information is given to you on condition that you keep it to yourself, you’re obliged to give serious weight to the compact of confidence. But the simple fact that a person doesn’t want to disclose something, even something about himself, doesn’t have the same gravity. Once your friend is gone, you may judge that the negative consequences that concerned him (say, the changed view of him among his remaining family) are less significant than the interests of the living. As long as he can still understand you, you might want to tell him what you plan to do. It would be good to be clear about his reasons for keeping the other child’s existence from the family before you decide to override them.
I have been good friends with someone for more than 50 years and have lived with him for nearly five. Several years ago, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He decided not to treat it. Now the cancer has metastasized to his abdomen, his bones, etc. His doctors have suggested he has six to 12 months to live. He has asked me not to tell anyone of his illness, not even after he dies. Other than his doctors, I think I am the only person who has this information.
He is estranged from most of his family except for one sister whom I have met and who I know loves him dearly. She would be devastated and angry not to be able to say goodbye.