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Obligations and preferences in knowing and not knowing: the importance of context
  1. Lisa Dive,
  2. Ainsley Janelle Newson
  1. Sydney Health Ethics, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lisa Dive, Sydney Health Ethics, University of Sydney, Camperdown NSW 2006, Australia; lisa.dive{at}

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In healthcare broadly, and especially in genetic (and now genomic) medicine, there is an ongoing debate about whether patients have a right not to know (RNTK) information about their own health. The extensive literature on this topic is characterised by a range of different understandings of what it means to have a RNTK,1–9 and how this purported right relates to patient autonomy. Ben Davies considers whether obligations not to place avoidable burdens on a publicly funded healthcare system might form the basis for an obligation to acquire relevant health information, and hence refute the RNTK. He also makes the interesting argument that an obligation to know does not necessarily limit the RNTK.

Davies summarises the more prominent arguments against the RNTK, including harm-to-others arguments that focus on potential harms to individuals related to the patient. However he then considers the RNTK in the context of the obligations that people have to each other within a publicly funded healthcare system. So rather than focusing on harms to specific individuals, Davies’ argument is instead based on the wrong of needlessly consuming public healthcare resources. If a person avoids health-related information and thereby exacerbates their health problems, this makes them more complex and expensive to treat. Davies argues that this constitutes …

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  • Contributors LD and AJN jointly conceived this commentary. LD wrote the first draft and then both authors undertook several rounds of critical revision. Both authors have read and approved the final submitted version.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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