Partner notification in the context of HIV: an interest-analysis

Laar AK, DeBruin DA, Craddock S (2015)


Codes of confidentiality play an essential role in the intimate discourses in many learned professions. Codes with various prescriptions exist. The Hippocratic Oath for example, prescribes rewards to the secret keeper, for keeping secret what ought to be kept secret, and punishments for failing. In public health practice, partner notification, arguably is one endeavor that tests the durability of this secret keeping doctrine of the health professional. We present an interest-analysis of partner notification in the context of HIV service rendition. Using principles-based analysis, the interests of the individual, the state/public health, and the bioethicist’s are discussed. The public health interests in partner notification, which are usually backed by state statutes and evidence, are premised on the theory that partners are entitled to knowledge. This theory posits that knowledge empowers individuals to avoid continuing risks; knowledge of infection allows for early treatment; and that knowledgeable partners can adapt their behavior to prevent further transmission of infection to others. However, persons infected with HIV often have counter interests. For instance, an infected person may desire to maintain the privacy of their health status from unnecessary disclosure because of the negative impacts of disclosure, or because notification without a matching access to HIV prevention and treatment services is detrimental. The interest of the bioethicist in this matter is to facilitate a resolution of these conflicted interests. Our analysis concludes that governmental interests are not absolute in comparison with the interests of the individual. We reiterate that any effort to morally balance the benefits of partner notification with its burdens ought to first recognize the multivalent nature of the interests at play.

Keywords: HIV, partner notification, interest-analysis, principles-based analysis

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