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Massachusetts Medical Society




Death ends the doctor–patient relationship, and legally the patient's right of privacy dies with the patient. Other privacy interests survive, the most central of which are those of the patient's family to bury the body and to prevent the disclosure of some personal information, such as medical information, about the deceased relative. Just what privacy interests encompass and when they can be overridden by other interests — such as freedom of speech or the claims of public policy or medical research — are evolving.1 Family privacy concerning a family member who has died is at the forefront of a continuing political dispute in the United States and is the subject of two recent major court rulings, one in the United States and another in Iceland. Only one of these examples directly involves physicians, but all three help to illuminate the concept of family privacy in the context of death, an issue that must be taken seriously in health care.


From The New England Journal of Medicine, George J. Annas, Family Privacy and Death: Antigone, War, and Medical Research, Volume 352, Page 501 Copyright ©(2005) Massachusetts Medical Society. Reprinted with permission.

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