Medical Confidentiality After a Patient's Death, With Particular Reference to the Netherlands
Medicine and Law: World Association for Medical Law 2001; 20(2): 215-220
This article concerns medical confidentiality after a patient's death. At international level there is an agreement that medical data of deceased patients should continue to be treated as confidential and therefore be protected by law. In the Netherlands, courts have ruled along the same lines. After death, the physician is bound to confidentiality and if necessary should invoke his right to remain silent. However, it is also accepted by the courts that circumstances can occur in which a doctor may disclose confidential information to third parties such as relatives. Disclosure of medical data is justified when the agreement of the deceased can be presupposed, or (if this is impossible) if there are such important interests of third parties involved that the obligation to maintain confidentiality may be put aside. According to present Dutch jurisprudence, confidentiality of medical data is regarded as a personal right that is not inherited by the relatives. Whether the position of the latter should be reinforced by introducing statutory provisions, is to be further explored.
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