Doctors slam rumored confidentiality erosion | News | DW | 10.08.2016
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Doctors slam rumored confidentiality erosion

Media rumors that Berlin wants to weaken doctor-patient confidentiality so police can trace terror suspects have prompted protest. German physicians and several parties say a tradeoff of trust for security is untenable.

Germany's association comprising 470,000 doctors warned on Wednesday that security worries following a spate of attacks in July must not mislead the nation into deciding on "rash political and legal measures."

The president of the German Medical Association (Bundesärztekammer), Frank Ulrich Montgomery, said that a patient's right to privacy was protected by Germany's constitution, and confidentially was essential to maintain trust between doctors and each patient.

Montgomery was responding to German media claims that Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere would on Thursday present security proposals that could include a requirement that medics report potential terror suspects to authorities.

Frank Ulrich Montgomery

Montgomery warned that eroding patient confidentiality could damage public trust in doctors

In the wake of attacks in July inside Germany, it emerged that at least one assailant, a Syrian asylum seeker, had been in prior medical care. The issue also came up for discussion after co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who had repeatedly sought medical advice, intentionally crashed a Germanwings airliner in 2015.

Emergencies already covered

Montgomery said that paragraph 34 of Germany's penal code (StGB) already allowed a doctor to breach confidentiality in a situation of imminent danger. Paragraph 203 otherwise foresees a fine or up to one year in prison for breaching confidentiality on private secrets.

Klaus Reinhardt, the chairman of the Hartmann Association - representing 70,000 doctors, dentists and medical students - said such situations were "adequately regulated already via the StGB penal code."

Reinhardt warned against launching a "dangerous debate."

Parliamentarian Karl Lauterbach, the health spokesman for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who form part of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition, said weakening confidentiality would scare off patients from visiting doctors.

"Medical confidentiality is a precious [legal] asset," said Lauterbach, who himself is a medical doctor and health economist.

Security would not improve

SPD parliamentary group leader Thomas Oppermann told the tabloid newspaper "Bild" that eroding confidentially, aside from the constitutional protections, would not result in more security.

Opposition Left party co-leader Bernd Riexinger described as "cheap populism" the packet reportedly sought by de Maiziere and regional state interior ministers belonging to Merkel's conservative alliance.

The chairman of Germany's GdP police officer trade union told the Düsseldorf edition of the "Rheinische Post" newspaper on Wednesday that it was conceivable that doctors could contact a special institution if they had concerns about a patient's intentions.

ipj/msh (KNA, epd, AP, AFP)