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The basis of privacy and autonomy in medical practice : A model

By Walter J. Friedlander


Most of the medical literature concerned with privacy seems to be based on the implicit assumptions that there is such a thing as right-to-privacy and that privacy is a worthwhile end unto itself. This paper develops a model which should permit a better and more pragmatic understanding of the moral, ethical and psychosocial bases of these assumptions. Arguments are offered that privacy is, indeed, not mainly an intrinsic value but is more of an instrumental value. It is suggested that privacy, per se, is not an end but is, rather, a means to another end, autonomy. It is important to differentiate autonomy as used here from narcissism; the former is viewed as an advanced stage of cognitive development whereas the latter is a social deviance. The model is developed which states: the analogy of a person is as a unit consisting of a matrix which is unique and autonomous because of its separation from other units by means of a wall-of-privacy; the relationship between persons is measured by their social distance. Derived from this is the 'equation', A [approximate] (P)(D). Intimacy, substitutive judgement, confidentiality and patient-physician relationship are conceptualized within this model.

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