Patient related information must be respected

Any patient-related information within the doctor-patient relationship is sacrosanct, and must be respected, even after death. The South African Medical Association (Sama) said this following the release, and subsequent withdrawal, of a book detailing the last days of former president Nelson Mandela.The book was written by former SANDF Surgeon-General Dr Vejay Ramlakan, who was part of the medical team treating Mandela in the months before his death.

Penguin Random House South Africa (PRHSA) made the decision to pull the book out of respect for Mandela’s family.

This after the family said it had been kept in the dark as to who could have authorised the publication of the book about the final years of the country’s founding president. Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, had also threatened to sue the author and the publishers of the book. The Nelson Mandela Foundation said there were inaccuracies in it.

Sama chairperson Mzukisi Grootboom said the issue is clear: patient-related information is sacrosanct and must be respected and violating this principle undermines the trust the public has in their medical practitioners.

“Irrespective of the contents of the book, all doctors are reminded of their ethical responsibilities to patients, regardless of who they are. The core ethical tenet of the doctor-patient relationship is the principle of confidentiality.

“In the now no longer used Hippocratic Oath, it refers to secrets in the doctor-patient relationship as being ‘holy’. Perhaps of greater relevance, the Geneva Declaration, used by most doctors in their oath-taking, contains the line: ‘I will respect the secrets that are confided in me, even after the patient has died’,” Grootboom said.

Vice-chairperson Mark Sonderup said the overriding principle was to protect the doctor-patient relationship in the interest of maintaining trust, dignity and respect.

PRHSA accepted Mandela’s Last Years for publication after Ramlakan advised the publisher that he had been requested by Mandela’s family to publish the book.

According to the publishing house, “the book was meant to portray Nelson Mandela’s courage and strength until the very end of his life, and was in no way intended to be disrespectful. However, given the statements from family members, we have decided to withdraw the book,” the company said. – Staff Reporter

Source: The Star