The original source of a doctor’s duty of confidentiality is the Hippocratic Oath. Regarding confidentiality Hippocrates said: ‘Whatever, in connection with my professional practice or not in connection with it, I see or hear in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret.’ The obligation of confidentiality spoken of here is not absolute; it is up to the doctor to decide what information ‘ought not to be spoken abroad.’ Another Oath of confidentiality is the Declaration of Geneva which says: ‘I will respect the secrets confided in me, even after the patient has died.’ Here, however, the obligation is absolute. These are two sources of a doctor’s duty of confidentiality which, although they differ in extent, both highlight the importance of respecting the confidentiality of patients. J NI Ethics Forum 2006, 3: 146-153
‘The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life.’
Falstaff, Shakespeare, in Henry IV, Part One, 1596.