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ETHICS IN MEDICINE   University of Washington School of Medicine

Public Health Ethics:
Case 1

Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Contact Tracing
MG is a 27-year-old graduate student, recently married, who comes into the student health clinic for a routine pelvic exam and Pap smear. During the course of the exam, the gynecology resident performing the exam obtains the Pap smear, but also obtains cervical cultures for gonorrhea and chlamydia. The examination concludes uneventfully.

Several weeks later, MG receives a postcard indicating that the Pap smear was normal, with no evidence of dysplasia, but that the cervical culture for gonorrhea was positive. The card instructs her to come into the clinic to discuss treatment, and that "public health authorities" have been notified for contact tracing, which refers to the identification and diagnosis of sexual partners, as required by law. The young woman is terrified that her husband will be contacted.

Is contact tracing ethically justified?

Discussion

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