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ethics and confidentiality
Dec 4, 2003

I am a student at the college of pharmacy at wayne state university in Detroit, Michigan. I am presenting an ethical dilemma in my ethics class. I feel that my question could help shed some light for healthcare providers in particular situations:

A pharmacist is practicing, a male patient walks in and while getting his HIV medication refilled (patient is infected with HIV)discloses to the pharmacist that he is having unprotected sex with another one of the pharmacists patient's. The female (or other) patient is unaware that the male patient is infected with HIV. Should the pharmacist abide by the initial patient's right to confidentiality or should he do what is in the best interest of his other patient and warn her that the male patient is infected with HIV. This dilemma is between (from what I have studied) the patient's right to confidentiality and the ethical duty of a pharmacist (taken under an oath) to do what is in the best medical interests of his patients.

Francesco Vella

Response from Ms. Breuer

I can see why the scenario appeals to you, but the pharmacist's obligation to patient confidentiality trumps what many folks would see as his/her "moral obligation" to inform the female partner. Here's the hole in the scenario: the obligation to inform is the HIV-positive patient's, and the partner has an obligation to protect herself. (What is SHE thinking?) If the pharmacist were to disclose a patient's status without the patient's permission, the pharmacist would be risking an expensive lawsuit that she/he would, most likely, lose.

In my opinion (which I'm only guessing you want--perhaps you don't), the real dilemma the pharmacist faces is how to persuade the male patient to inform the partner, or how to warn the female about protecting herself without disclosing confidential information.



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