Doctor’s Duty to Maintain Professional Secrecy (Exceptions Thereof) (Court Judgment)

The appellant was engaged and scheduled to be married on December 12, 1995. The marriage was called off because a doctor from Apollo Hospital, Madras informed his fiance that the appellant’s blood tested at Apollo Hospital was found HIV positive.

Aggrieved by the unauthorized disclosure and on the basis that the hospital had a duty to maintain confidentiality of personal medical information of the appellant, the appellant filed a petition before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission seeking compensation from the respondents for breach of their duty to maintain confidentiality and consequential discrimination, loss in earnings and social ostracism.

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The commission dismissed the petition summarily and directed the petitioner to initiate civil proceedings for an appropriate relief. The appellant filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court of India.

The Hon. Supreme Court held that:

The rule of confidentiality is subject to the exception when the circumstances demand disclosure of the patient’s health in public interest, particularly to save others from immediate and future health risks.

Further, the right of privacy of a person was also not held to be an absolute right, particularly when the fact of a person’s health condition would violate the right to life of another person.

If the fact of the appellant being HIV positive had not been disclosed to the appellant’s fiance with whom the appellant was likely to be married, she would have been infected with dreadful disease if the marriage had taken place and consummated.

The appeal was, therefore, dismissed.