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Rights theory in a specific healthcare context: “Speaking ill of the dead”
  1. Adrian Wildfire,
  2. Justin Stebbing,
  3. Brian Gazzard
  1. The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Division of Investigative Science, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Adrian Wildfire
 Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, HIV/GUM Research Laboratory, 5th Floor, St Stephen’s Centre, 369 Fulham Road, London SW10 9NH, UK; adrian.wildfire{at}


Generally physicians have a legal and ethical obligation of keeping confidentiality regarding their communication with patients and it is clear that we all have rights. The application of rights theorem, which usually refers to the recognition of individual human rights, to the deceased offers possible answers to the problematic question of patient confidentiality after death. Philosophical considerations broadly support utilitarian ideals concerning the ‘common good’. However, it may be possible to rank rights according to a hierarchy of need and thus preserve individual rights where they do not impinge upon the publics’ right to protection from harm and the physician’s right to tell the truth. This has broad implications for confidentiality, anonymity and health care information in general for patients, their families and healthcare workers. We discuss these issues, with specific reference to an individual case.

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  • Conflict of interest: none stated

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