Publication of Case Reports: Is Consent Required?

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Health Law and Policy, Medical Jurisprudence, individual patient stories, unique or unexpected findings in terms of disease or treatment


Case reports in medicine are fundamentally individual patient stories generally describing unique or unexpected findings in terms of disease or treatment. Anecdotally based, they are considered to be less rigorous an evidentiary base than other types of research. As described by Jenicek (1), although case reports rank low on the scale of types of evidence to be relied on, they are highly important in their frequent role as the “first line of evidence”. Historically, case reports were published without consent of the patient. However, standards have been evolving in law and ethics such that consent should now be viewed as mandatory. The remainder of the present commentary provides justification for this assertion.

The interests at stake include, on the one hand, confidentiality and autonomy and, on the other hand, the need for scientific advancement, described by Levine and Stagno (2) as “pedagogical freedom”. Since at least Hippocrates’ era, patients have been seen to be entitled to respect for the confidentiality of their personal health information (3). The elemental value of confidentiality is rooted in the need for absolute trust by patients that revelations of personal matters to health care providers will not be indiscriminately broadcasted. Furthermore, the right of the individual to choose among treatment options has been enshrined in the concept of ‘informed consent.’ Its roots may be found in the right to respect for autonomy, and the right to determine the course of treatment may be extended to the right to determine what may be done with personal information that is garnered along the way.


From Selected Works of Elaine Gibson

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