TV3's pressure on Lenihan 'could be bad for his health'

Expert: Deadline added to the minister's stress

Andrew Phelan

TV3's deadline to Brian Lenihan before going public with his cancer diagnosis was "potentially damaging" to the Finance Minister, a leading health analyst has said.

Dr Muiris Houston said the TV station "took Mr Lenihan's options away" from him and forced him to confront his illness in a "false way".

"The point is, we are all different," he explained to the Herald. "Some people might feel they need a lot of time and space, some don't.

"But if it was a 48-hour deadline, for most people that wouldn't be enough. I think the minister was deprived of the time he was entitled to.

"If he was treated like any other patient, I don't think it would be healthy.

"You would never say to a patient who had just been diagnosed, 'I'll see you in 48 hours, and by then I want you to have your entire reaction to this news organised'," he added.

"(Mr Lenihan) came across as being so brave, and we admire him for that, but my concern is, did that come easily to him or was he forced into it?

"That is not to say he wouldn't have reacted in a brave way, but we don't know.

"By giving him a deadline, his chances of reacting to his diagnosis in a way that was comfortable to him were definitely minimised and possibly damaged. It was a really big ask by TV3 and his options were taken away from him, there is no doubt about that."

Dr Houston made the analysis of TV3's decision in his Irish Times health column and told the Herald he stood by the strongly worded article.


He said many people working in the field were becoming wary of the emphasis on cancer patients being positive and "fighting or battling" their illness.

More experts are of the opinion that the growing trend to expect cancer patients to think positively about their condition is adding to their stress.

Dr Shelagh Wright, a lecturer in psycho-oncology at DCU's School of Nursing, said expecting positive thinking was inappropriate for some people with cancer who may be feeling frightened or overwhelmed.

"Sometimes the tyranny of positive thinking is not appropriate at all," she said.

"Every patient's experience is personal and factors such as past history have to be taken into account.

"There is no point in putting people under the additional stress of saying they have to have a prescriptive way of managing it."

She declined to comment on TV3's treatment of Mr Lenihan.