A physician’s account of his brush with a drunk driver raises an important issue: when does public safety trump privacy rights?
Brett Belchetz, a physician in Toronto, treated a woman for minor injuries as a result of a car crash. As he describes it in the Toronto Sun, his examination showed that the woman had obviously been drinking. Her breath, her speech, and her physical coordination all pointed to intoxication. Yet the police had neglected to test her on the scene, and she refused blood tests at the hospital, as is her right under Canadian law.
There was nothing to do but let the woman go home, scot-free.
Dr. Belchetz reminds us in his article that, “Patient confidentiality is one of the foremost principles by which all physicians must abide.” Unless a patient is a direct threat to themselves or other persons, his hands are tied.
The question is, was the woman a threat to herself and others? Ontario law allows exceptions to the confidentiality rule: doctors must report gunshot wounds, for one.
One could argue – as Dr. Belchetz does – that this is another case when patient confidentiality should come second to public safety. The driver’s attitude gave the doctor good reason to believe that she was unrepentant, and would go on drinking and driving. He thinks he should have been allowed to breach confidentiality and report that the woman had been under the influence while driving.
What do you think? Should the doctor have been allowed to report her crime?