Medical advancements mean there’s now a much greater understanding of how conditions are spread from person to person – and while treatment is also progressing, there are still many conditions that can’t be cured. This leaves professionals with a dilemma – when they know that a partner of a patient is at risk of a condition, should they inform them?

Of course, patient-doctor confidentiality in the UK legally and ethically sets out a medical professional’s responsibility to protect a patient’s personal information from improper disclosure. However, under certain circumstances, doctors may be obliged to disclose information about a patient even when their consent hasn’t been given. When it comes to communicable diseases, such as HIV, and a patient refuses to allow the information to be passed outside the healthcare team their wishes much be respected unless you consider that failure to disclose the information will put healthcare workers or other patients at risk of infection.

This ambiguity in the rules can make it challenging for professionals to weigh up what to do in these situations, with their own judgement potentially being called into question. So, should doctors ever inform partners of potential health risks?

Yes:  Partners should be informed

The argument for informing partners centres on a wider duty of care. Failing to tell a person, for example, that their partner has tested HIV+ puts them at significant risk, which is a contradiction to the role of a medical professional. Those in support of disclosing this type of information to partners will note that failing to do so means that the infection is more likely to spread. Of course, talking to the patient in questions, and encouraging them to discuss their condition with their partner, is the first course of action.

No: Partners should not be informed

Those that are against doctors disclosing medical conditions to partners tend to focus on the need for trust to be built between professional and patient, of which confidentiality is vitally important. Disclosing information when this has been refused by the patient can cause a serious breakdown in communication, trust, and future treatment for the condition. It can, as a result, cause further harm to the patient that is facing the disease.

What’s your view on revealing certain conditions to partners of the patient? Share your views with us.

As with many new areas of medicine, stem cell research is being hotly debated. It’s numerous potential benefit to further medical science are being tempered with ethical concerns. As stem cell research becomes even more prominent in a variety of medical fields, the debate is set to increase.

Stem cells are those cells that are able to differentiate into specialised cell types and can divide to produce more of the same type of stem cells. As a result, they offer the possibility or a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues. There are two broad types of stem cells. This first is adult stem cells, which can be found in various tissues and can act as a repair system for the body. There is little to no ethical debate around the use of adult stem cells. However, the second type of stem cells – embryonic stem cells – is more controversial.

In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all specialised cells making them valuable to stem cell research, but the ethics continue to be a contentious issue. Which side of the debate do you find yourself on?

In favour of stem cell research

Stem cell research holds a huge amount of potential for finding both treatments and cures for an array of diseases, from cancer and diabetes to multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. With the endless opportunity to grow and study human growth and cell development, scientists stand to learn a great deal. In contrast to this gains that can be made through stem cell research, those in favour argue that it either outweighs the ethics of using embryos or that the point of life doesn’t start until after this.

Against stem cell research

The key argument against embryonic stem cell research focuses on the ethics of research involving the development, use, and destruction of human embryos. It links to the argument of when you consider life beings and whether it’s ethical to destroy an embryo that has the potential to create life. Some of the opposition against stem cell research comes from religious organisations but this is balanced with those simply concerned by the ethics of it.

It’s become a political issue too, with the debate considering how the new research should be regulated and funded. A potential solution has emerged, with researchers working to develop techniques to isolate stem cells that are as valuable as embryonic stem cells but don’t require a human embryo.

The UK is currently one of the few European countries that does allow the creation of embryonic stem cell lines, do you agree with the policy stance?


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