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Opinion 8.18 - Informing Families of a Patient's Death

Disclosing the death of a patient to the patient’s family is a duty which goes to the very heart of the patient-physician relationship and should not be readily delegated to others by the attending physician. The emotional needs of the family and the integrity of the physician-patient relationship must at all times be given foremost consideration.

Physicians in residency training may be asked to participate in the communication of information about a patient’s death, if that request is commensurate with the physician’s prior training or experience and previous close personal relationship with the family.

It would not be appropriate for the attending physician or resident to request that a medical student notify family members of a patient’s death. Medical students should be trained in issues of death and dying, and should be encouraged to accompany attending physicians when news of a patient’s death is conveyed to the family members. (I, IV)

Issued March 1992 based on the report "Informing Families of a Patient's Death: Guidelines for the Involvement of Medical Students," adopted December 1989; Updated June 1994.