Confidentiality may be justified on four premises: Learners guide….

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Confidentiality may be justified on four premises

The three premises identified above, when combined, offer a  strong prima facie reason to support the idea of confidentiality although it must be recognised that there might be contrary reasons that are strong enough to override these premises. For example, these premises are overridden when secrecy would allow violence to be perpetrated against the innocent or make a person an unwitting accomplice of a crime. In such situations, autonomy and relationship do not provide sufficient ground for secrecy or silence. Indeed, in such situations the oath of silence should never be made, or if made for whatever reason, may be legitimately breached.

The fourth premise is more specific to the issue of confidentiality in the professional-client relationship. It adds more weight beyond ordinary loyalty to professional confidentiality given its utility to persons and society. It is for the sake of such utility that professionals grant clients secrecy even when ordinarily they have good reasons to speak out. Hence, lawyers for example believe that they are justified in concealing past crimes of clients or priests the sins they hear at confession.

A benefit of professional confidentiality for individuals is that it allows them to seek help which they might otherwise fear to ask for. For instance, those that are most vulnerable or at risk of grievous ailments that are considered embarrassing, such as HIV/AIDS, would be very reluctant to go to doctors for help without the assurance that their health status would be kept secret. By this, diseases that could otherwise be better managed could take a greater toll among those ashamed of the nature of their ailments. By extension, society gains in the sense that everyone benefits in society when professionals are able to access secrets that would enhance their capacity for helping clients.


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