Sunday, June 09, 2024

Is it OK to lie to cover a mistake?

Is it OK to lie to cover a mistake?

A reader we’re calling Patience volunteered for a weekly blood pressure study after experiencing prolonged periods of high blood pressure. Patience met with her physician to explore ways to lower her blood pressure, but he also asked her if she would be willing to participate in a study where she would use a home blood pressure machine to take weekly readings that she would text to a number at the medical center. The idea, as Patience explained it, was to see if her blood pressure was consistently high or if it started to go down after employing some of the methods she and her doctor discussed.

Patience wrote that she gladly signed on. She purchased a blood pressure machine at her local pharmacy and every Friday before 11 a.m., she sends in her blood pressure reading. On occasions when she forgets to send in the reading, she gets a text reminding her. On one occasion when her blood pressure was particularly high, a nurse involved with the study called her to ensure that she was OK and to encourage her to schedule an appointment with her physician.

When Patience travels she typically remembers to take her blood pressure machine with her so she can continue to send in her numbers. But recently, when Patience was away from home for two weeks, she forgot to bring the machine.

“I can only submit my numbers by text,” Patience wrote, so she couldn’t text a note to the study telling those running it that she forgot to bring her machine with her. Patience is concerned that if she doesn’t report her numbers for two weeks in a row and doesn’t respond to the text reminders that she might be dropped from the study.

“Should I just send in last week’s numbers instead of sending in nothing?” Patience asked.

Of course she shouldn’t lie about her blood pressure numbers. My initial reaction to the question was that this was one of those no-brainer questions to which any reasonable person would know the right answer. But I may have been too quick to dismiss Patience’s motivation for asking.

I can understand how Patience might be concerned that not submitting her numbers may risk participating in a study meant to help her. That worry might be so intense that it led her to believe that lying was a good option. It wasn’t and she shouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean her worry wasn’t real.

If Patience can’t get access to a blood pressure machine while she’s away so she can continue to submit her numbers, the right thing is to wait until she returns and can get back on schedule. Given that a nurse had contacted her when her blood pressure spiked, there’s a good bet that someone would notify her if they were worried or if she was in risk of being dropped. She could also give her physician’s office a call and see if someone there can contact the right person.

Using fake numbers defeats the purpose of the study and Patience should just wait it out to get back on schedule when she returns.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy, emeritus, at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin


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