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Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing

Wolfson Fellow

Publication details for Professor Holger Maehle

Maehle, AH (2003). Protecting Patient Privacy or Serving Public Interests? Challenges to Medical Confidentiality in Imperial Germany. Social History of Medicine 16(3): 383-401.

Author(s) from Durham


With the Penal Code of 1871, confidentiality became a legal requirement for physicians, surgeons, and other health professions throughout Imperial Germany. However, based on an analysis of the relevant legal cases up to the First World War, this article argues that the professional secrecy of German doctors was increasingly challenged by an ethos that put public interests before patient privacy. This development became particularly tangible in cases of venereal disease, or when interests of the state in criminal prosecution were involved. Yet, medical confidentiality was still better protected in Imperial Germany than in contemporary Britain.