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Contesting Medical ConfidentialityOrigins of the Debate in the United States, Britain, and Germany$
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Andreas-Holger Maehle

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226404820

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226404967.001.0001

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Venereal Diseases: The Issue of Private versus Public Interest

Venereal Diseases: The Issue of Private versus Public Interest

Chapter:
(p.36) Chapter 2 Venereal Diseases: The Issue of Private versus Public Interest
Source:
Contesting Medical Confidentiality
Author(s):

Andreas-Holger Maehle

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226404967.003.0003

Beginning with the American legal case of Simonsen v. Swenson (1920), in which a doctor was sued by a patient because of unauthorized disclosure of an infectious disease, this chapter examines nineteenth- and early twentieth-century debates on a duty of physicians to notify syphilis and other venereal diseases to the health authorities and to warn contact persons. In the USA as well as in Britain and Germany a basic conflict existed between an individual, private interest in secrecy and a public interest in disclosure in order to prevent the spread of infection. There was, however, also a widely used public interest argument for keeping socially stigmatizing conditions such as syphilis secret, because breaches of confidentiality in this area would deter patients from consulting a doctor, to the detriment of public health. There was particular concern over the introduction of venereal infections into marriage. While the USA and Germany introduced obligatory notification of venereal diseases under specific conditions, Britain followed a policy of providing free and confidential care in special VD treatment centers.

Keywords:   venereal disease, syphilis, Simonsen v. Swenson, private interest, public interest, public health, confidentiality, notification, marriage, VD treatment centers

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