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Ethical Issues - Confidentiality

Introduction

Confidentiality is seen as a fundamental ethical principal in health care and a breach of confidentiality can be a reason for disciplinary action. Dilemmas around confidentiality arise when the principle of confidentiality is in possible conflict with other ethical principles such as avoiding harm to the patient or others. Issues around confidentiality may be brought to a clinical ethics committee or group in the form of individual cases or in considering hospital policies. There are also issues of confidentiality for the ethics committee itself. In this section we provide a brief overview of the ethical and legal approaches to confidentiality and then look at some specific issues that may present to ethics committees. We describe a hypothetical case to illustrate the issues that might be brought to a committee by health professionals, and then look at the duties of the committee regarding confidentiality and access to records in health care. The section concludes with some suggested further reading on the issues.

This section does not provide a comprehensive overview of the issues around confidentiality, and does not make recommendations about what an ethics committee should do. It highlights issues that a committee may wish to consider and provides some ethical and legal frameworks for approaching the subject.