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Can I Tell a Dying Friend’s Secret to His Children?

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.


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16 comments to this article

  1. Anonymous

    on July 23, 2016 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    You friend a dead and don’t want to see the hold he bin hiding from for years, your friend is going to hell and he wouldn’t even try to make amens before he go on his journey, why not tell them now what if they meet and start a relationship not knowing they related? Him a go dead bad

  2. Anonymous

    on July 23, 2016 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Him a go dead bad him is a waist man

  3. needleye101

    on July 23, 2016 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    This one sticky sticky bad . I have an obligation to my best friend to keep his/ her secret but still I would like for his kids to kno their siblings …. :sorry :sorry

  4. Anonymous

    on July 23, 2016 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Your friend is a coward and is selfish. You know what uou hav
    to do…..DO IT.

  5. Anonymous

    on July 23, 2016 at 1:46 pm - Reply


  6. 2 Sugars & Milk

    on July 23, 2016 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    I say NO, they have a right to know of course but I don’t think it is your “place” to impart that life changing information. The man kept this for years by choice so why should you do the dirty work now? Let the mother of the child tell them because she knows and has always been a party to the secrets, also if the daughter knows and wants to come forward then she should. Like I said you are not duty bound to do so whether as trustee or loyalty to your dying friend. If I was the daughter I wouldn’t want to know after 30 odd years, he knew and kept it so he can make peace with his conscience and God. #my2cents

  7. needleye101

    on July 23, 2016 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    Y’all remember that the mother of the child wanted it that way too for him not to be apart of the child’s life, so why should I as a friend tell his other kids about it. At some point the daughter is gonna find out who his dad is and do her own research nothing hides for ever.

  8. NO

    on July 23, 2016 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Wait till him dead dont do it now wait till everybody mourn then u do it

  9. anonymous

    on July 23, 2016 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    I would tell him that the burden of the secret is too much to carry and I want to tell his family. If he still says no, then sticky pon yuh, but I would respect his wishes. I don’t see how both parties(your friend+the daughter’s mother) would want to keep this secret, what is going on there.

  10. #suedene

    on July 23, 2016 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    The child is 30 an is intitle in privacy to kno the truth..tell her

  11. Latty

    on July 23, 2016 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    My youth yah listen to dead man decision.. Tell di dead fren all doe him a dead, an unnu a friend… him a dead by himself an yuh naw come wid him an yuh ago chat.. So now Yuh wah burden yourself an carry secret fi dead man Yuh luddy…. Dis close to home but mi a real girl. My granny dead b4 me bawn an one a my parents nuh know dem father and when she lay pan di death bed dem say ask har who a yuh father… Dem say no leave her she a dead… But she did affi keep it rasss secret cause a ppl good good husband she breed fah… Das why she nuh wah chat… Now dem still nuh know a who a di parent an chuss mi when mi tell Yuh say a empty space deh deh weh neva full an it carry on chu an still a gwan.

  12. needleye101

    on July 23, 2016 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Latty u think u easy no iyah :ngakak :ngakak :ngakak :granny did a teck a gal man :ngakak :ngakak

  13. Anonymous

    on July 23, 2016 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    When he’s dead what he can do is at least invite them to the funeral what happens next is up to them.

  14. Anonymous

    on July 24, 2016 at 10:24 am - Reply

    Sounds like a you him have the pickney with and your changing up your identity. Do what you think is right.

  15. YeYelid (~_~)

    on July 24, 2016 at 6:12 pm - Reply

    Great Sunday evening Met & Metters.

    Don’t say a word! Both the (soon to be) dead man and the woman made a decision that it would be a secret, if the mother wanted her 30 year old child to know it wouldn’t be a secret.
    That’s why I will NEVER trust people because they are waiting for any opportunity to tell all about you.

    If the kids come to you about it then okay but otherwise leave it alone, you might end up cause more harm than good… The kids being bitter, the wife, ex-wife, secret child and the other woman, what if it’s someone the kids and wives know? Then it’s you fault….

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