AU: Doctors breaching patient privacy: Orwell redux

Via Dr. Ken Pope’s mail list, I learned of an article in the Medical Journal of Australia by David J. Handelsman, Leo A. Turner, and Ann J. Conway, ” Doctors breaching patient privacy: Orwell redux.”

Here’s an excerpt from the commentary:

Of all the ethical principles underlying medical practice, confidentiality is so fundamental that its breach is an illegal, high-order betrayal of responsibility. Disclosing personal medical information without consent profoundly violates the autonomy, beneficence and privacy that patients have always rightly expected. Although disclosure without consent has only rarely been necessitated by an urgent threat to life or health, two recent legal erosions of doctor–patient confidentiality illustrate how privacy-invading legislation can so easily and silently harm individuals who do not form sufficiently clamorous rights-demanding groups. In one, a state government directs that private medical records be lodged in an Orwellian sounding “Central Register” without regard for the individual’s knowledge, and risking privacy breaches by seeking consent for disclosure to third parties. The other permits disclosures of a patient’s medical information against their wishes even without any urgent threat to the life or health of another person. Both represent unreasonable intrusions on privacy and erosion of personal liberty.

The full article is available online on the journal’s web site.  The authors comment on two pieces of legislation: the New South Wales Assisted Reproductive Technology Act 2007 and a “recent update of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines on medical genetic testing [ … ] that widens the legal exemption allowing disclosure of patients’ genetic information to others, even against a patient’s wishes.”

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