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HIV and the right not to know
  1. Jonathan Youngs1,
  2. Joshua Simmonds2
  1. 1Core Medical Training, St George's Hospital, London, UK
  2. 2 Accident and Emergency, Wexham Park Hospital, Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, Berkshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jonathan Youngs, Core Medical Training, St George's Hospital, Blackshaw Road,Tooting, London SW17 0QT, UK; youngs.jonathan{at}


It is a tenet of the prevailing ethic in medicine that competent adults have the ‘right to know’ information necessary to make informed decisions about their healthcare. Whether there is a ‘right not to know’ unwanted information is more hotly debated. When deciding whether or not to override a competent adult's desire not to know his/her HIV result, a desire to respect patient autonomy can be seen to pull in both directions. We thus conclude that there is not a very strong presumption on the side of non-disclosure but rather the adult's interest in not knowing must be weighed against the potential harms and benefits of disclosure for both the individual and others. This does not, however, negate the fact that patients retain a right to refuse an HIV test and this is so even where issues of bodily integrity are not at stake. This implies that explicit consent should still be sought for HIV testing, at least where there is some possibility that the patient may refuse, or want more information, if given the chance.

  • Autonomy
  • Clinical Ethics
  • Ethics
  • HIV Infection and AIDS

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