A problematic obituary
Case text (Anonymised)
A short obituary for a recently deceased doctor was received. Just before the issue went to print, one of the editors recognised the deceased as having been at the centre of disciplinary proceedings for having had a sexual relationship with a patient. As a result, he had been removed from the medical register for professional misconduct around two years before his death. This was not mentioned in the obituary, nor had the deceased’s brother, who had written and submitted the obituary, advised the editors of this. The proceedings had, however, received extensive media coverage. The deceased had had a 40 year, otherwise distinguished, career as a consultant psychiatrist. Members of the editorial committee had differing opinions about what should be done. - Publish the obituary unchanged: nobody tells the truth about the dead. - Publish the obituary with a note that the deceased retired following disciplinary proceedings. - Refuse to publish the obituary and establish a policy that obituaries of doctors who have been deregistered for professional misconduct will not be published.
- An obituary is not necessarily a plaudit for the deceased. - Medical journal culture has tended not to speak ill of the dead, although this does not sit well with an accurate scholarly record. - Instead of running a negative obituary, the journal could instead run a news piece on the doctor’s general story or focus on the misconduct. - The journal shouldn’t publish a piece that represents the doctor as something he was not and which left out an important and serious fact of his professional life.
The journal offered the brother an opportunity either to revise or withdraw the obituary. He chose, somewhat unhappily, to withdraw it.