Current Research Interests
Researchers: Prof. Andreas-Holger Maehle & Sebastian Pranghofer
"Law and Ethics in the Issue of Medical Confidentiality in England and Germany, 1871-1933"
Funded by the Wellcome Trust
While questions of confidentiality are central to present-day biomedical ethics, the modern history of "medical secrecy" is largely unexplored terrain. The issue has been investigated to some extent for France and Britain but for Germany there is no comprehensive historical study on the subject. Supported by the Wellcome Trust, this comparative Anglo-German research project wants to help fill this gap.
Whereas confidentiality became a legal duty for all German doctors with the Penal Code of 1871, medical secrecy in England remained legally unprotected. This applied especially to doctors acting as expert witnesses in court. While German doctors were entitled to refuse giving evidence about confidential patient information, English doctors had no right to remain silent. Through a study of the relevant legal cases in both countries and of the medical ethical and legal literature on the subject, this project aims to assess the implications of this difference in key problem areas, such as venereal disease, domestic and public violence and abortion. The broader study of medical professional ethics in Imperial Germany suggests that growing recognition of the demands of public health posed a serious challenge to traditional notions of duty to the individual patient, including medical confidentiality. General differences in social and cultural attitudes towards professional secrecy in Germany and England may also have been reasons, which will be investigated. The period of study ends with the beginning of the National Socialist dictatorship in Germany.
Maehle, AH (2002), ‘The Emergence of Medical Professional Ethics in Germany', in: AH Maehle and J Geyer-Kordesch (eds), Historical and Philosophical Perspectives on Biomedical Ethics (Aldershot/UK and Burlington/USA: Ashgate), 37-48
Maehle, AH (2003), ‘Protecting Patient Privacy or Serving Public Interests? Challenges to Medical Confidentiality in Imperial Germany', Social History of Medicine 16: 383-401
Pranghofer, S and Maehle, AH (2006) ‘Limits of Professional Secrecy: Medical Confidentiality in England and Germany in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries', Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 31: 231-244