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ETHICS IN MEDICINE   University of Washington School of Medicine

Physician-Patient Relationship:
Case 2

A 16-year-old female presents to a family physician to obtain a referral for family therapy. She is estranged from her mother and stepfather, who see the same physician. For many years, this patient responsibly cared for her four younger siblings while their single mother worked. Since her mother's marriage, the family has become involved in a fundamentalist church. The patient moved out when she felt the social and moral restrictions of the family's religion were too burdensome for her. The patient seemed quite mature; she maintained a 3.5 GPA, along with a part-time job. She demonstrated a genuine desire for reconciliation, and the therapy referral was provided.

She also requested and obtained a prescription for contraceptives during the visit, with the assurance that her sexual activity would be kept confidential. In follow-up, she reported that the therapist had informed her that if she mentioned anything about being sexually active with her adult partner, he would be obliged to report her to the state. The patient was very concerned about the conflict between this statement and the family physician's prior assurance of confidentiality.

Should this patient's confidentiality be broken?

Discussion

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