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Article
December 18, 1991

How the Doctor Got GaggedThe Disintegrating Right of Privacy in the Physician-Patient Relationship

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Internal Medicine, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Program in Law, Ethics and Health, The Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, Md (Dr Sugarman); and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and the Department of Philosophy, Georgetown University, Washington, DC (Dr Powers).

From the Division of Internal Medicine, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Program in Law, Ethics and Health, The Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, Md (Dr Sugarman); and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and the Department of Philosophy, Georgetown University, Washington, DC (Dr Powers).

JAMA. 1991;266(23):3323-3327. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03470230081034
Abstract

THE importance of unrestricted communication within the physician-patient relationship has long been recognized in American jurisprudence. In what appears to be a significant departure from established precedent, the Supreme Court recently upheld a US Department of Health and Human Services regulation prohibiting recipients of Title X familyplanning funds from discussing the option of abortion with their pregnant patients.1 The decision in Rust v Sullivan raises a number of questions about the nature and scope of the legal right of privacy in the patient-physician relationship. Although the decision may reflect the controversies surrounding abortion, its implications for the physician-patient relationship extend into other arenas of medical care. Such a decision highlights the urgent need for patients, policymakers, and health care professionals to examine the proper role of governmental regulation of communication between patients and physicians.

This article provides a brief sketch of governmental regulation affecting the physician-patient relationship and explores

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