The right not to know and the obligation to know

Journal of Medical Ethics 46 (5):300-303 (2020)
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Abstract
There is significant controversy over whether patients have a ‘right not to know’ information relevant to their health. Some arguments for limiting such a right appeal to potential burdens on others that a patient’s avoidable ignorance might generate. This paper develops this argument by extending it to cases where refusal of relevant information may generate greater demands on a publicly funded healthcare system. In such cases, patients may have an ‘obligation to know’. However, we cannot infer from the fact that a patient has an obligation to know that she does not also have a right not to know. The right not to know is held against medical professionals at a formal institutional level. We have reason to protect patients’ control over the information that they receive, even if in individual instances patients exercise this control in ways that violate obligations.
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Archival date: 2020-06-26
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