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Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2010 Mar;92(2):113-7. doi: 10.1308/003588410X12628812458932.

Confidence and conflicts of duty in surgery.

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  • 1Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, Institute for Science, Ethics, and Innovation, School of Law, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.


This paper offers an exploration of the right to confidentiality, considering the moral importance of private information. It is shown that the legitimate value that individuals derive from confidentiality stems from the public interest. It is re-assuring, therefore, that public interest arguments must be made to justify breaches of confidentiality. The General Medical Council's guidance gives very high importance to duties to maintain confidences, but also rightly acknowledges that, at times, there are more important duties that must be met. Nevertheless, this potential conflict of obligations may place the surgeon in difficult clinical situations, and examples of these are described, together with suggestions for resolution.

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