Contesting Medical Confidentiality

Contesting Medical Confidentiality : Origins of the Debate in the United States, Britain, and Germany

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Medical confidentiality is an essential cornerstone of effective public health systems, and for centuries societies have struggled to maintain the illusion of absolute privacy. In this age of health databases and increasing connectedness, however, the confidentiality of patient information is rapidly becoming a concern at the forefront of worldwide ethical and political debate. In Contesting Medical Confidentiality, Andreas-Holger Maehle travels back to the origins of this increasingly relevant issue. He offers the first comparative analysis of professional and public debates on medical confidentiality in the United States, Britain, and Germany during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when traditional medical secrecy first came under pressure from demands of disclosure in the name of public health. Maehle structures his study around three representative questions of the time that remain salient today: Do physicians have a privilege to refuse court orders to reveal confidential patient details? Is there a medical duty to report illegal procedures to the authorities? Should doctors breach confidentiality in order to prevent the spread of disease?
Considering these debates through a unique historical perspective, Contesting Medical Confidentiality illuminates the ethical issues and potentially grave consequences that continue to stir up public debate.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 168 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 22.86mm | 385.55g
  • University of Chicago Press
  • United States
  • English
  • 022640482X
  • 9780226404820
  • 2,404,124

Review quote

"A detailed history of the quarrels to flexibilize medical confidentiality in the late 19th to early 20th century should be quite tedious. Not in this case, though: Maehle manages to come up with an exhaustively documented and yet highly readable volume. The book recounts the parallel journeys of medical confidentiality in Germany, the US, and Britain. To that end, the author astutely uses three fields where the clash between medical confidentiality and the public interest of those times was more intense: giving judicial testimony against patients, reporting patients with sexually transmitted diseases, and taking to the authorities patients suspected of illegal abortion. The author's strategy proves fruitful in both delivering the contents and capturing the reader's attention. The result is an erudite and interesting short volume. Highly recommended."--Choice "This well researched book deftly demonstrates that both the official policies and the professional practices related to the controversial concept of medical confidentiality have long been contested. Maehle shows how the United States, England, and Germany have tried in different ways over the last three centuries to wrestle with some of the key questions raised by the concept. His long term perspectives will surely help contemporary policy makers, as technological advances further complicate this inherently sensitive and historically disputed issue."--James C. Mohr, University of Oregon "Contesting Medical Confidentiality is a fascinating, detailed, and dispassionate account of how physicians and societies have negotiated the borders of medical secrecy over infectious diseases, criminalized abortion, and testimony in court. Readers will find enlightening and challenging comparisons between Britain, Germany, and the United States on issues such as the evolution of the physician-patient privilege and the duty to warn others of risks of contagion."--Leslie P. Francis, University of Utah "Maehle achieves the complex task of dealing with the subject of confidentiality as understood from three perspectives--that of the medical profession, the public, and the law--in three different countries. Despite its vast importance, currently only a handful of books deal in detail with the history of medical confidentiality. Contesting Medical Confidentiality is the first to offer an in-depth comparative study of the subject, and Maehle is uniquely qualified to make this significant scholarly contribution to the fields of bioethics, law, and medicine--not to mention the relevance his work has for the general public."--Robert Baker, Union College "Maehle provides readers an elegantly written comparative history of what gets classified as medically confidential and why in the US, Britain, and Germany, during the late 1800s to the early 1900s. The period is critical to understanding the social interests that created and sustain modern concepts of confidentiality. Since these modern concepts might be about to give way to something quite different in response to new information demands in health care, Contesting Medical Confidentiality is particularly timely and vital."--Pamela Sankar, University of Pennsylvania
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About Andreas-Holger Maehle

Andreas-Holger Maehle is professor of history of medicine and medical ethics at Durham University, in England.
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