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“Please Don’t Tell Me”: The Right Not to Know


Knowledge is generally a good thing. People who know lots of bits of information are generally admired. Some of them win prizes in TV competitions. If you were offered the gift of having an entire encyclopedia wired into your brain, you would probably accept, without thinking. But we should be wary of assuming that all knowledge is good. Too much knowledge can inhibit rather than enable thought.

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1. Chadwick, R, Levitt, M, Shickle, D, eds. The Right to Know and the Right Not to Know. Aldershot: Avebury; 1997; Andorno, R. The right not to know: An autonomy based approach. Journal of Medical Ethics 2004;30:435–9.

2. World Health Organization. Guidelines on Ethical Issues in Medical Genetics and the Provision of Genetic Services. Geneva: World Health Organization; 1997, at 2.

3. See Foster, C.Autonomy should chair, not rule. The Lancet 2010;375(9712):368–9 For further examples.

4. See note 3, Foster 2010.

5. See note 1, Andorno 2004.

6. Foster, C.Choosing Life, Choosing Death: The Tyranny of Autonomy in Medical Ethics and Law. Oxford: Hart; 2009, at chapter 1.

7. Turner, C.The burden of knowledge. Georgia Law Review 2009;43:297–366.

8. See note 7, Turner 2009.

9. Wilson, J.To know or not to know? Genetic ignorance, autonomy and paternalism. Bioethics 2005;19:492–504.

10. Laurie, G.Genetic Privacy: A Challenge to Medico-Legal Norms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2002, at 255–74.

11. See note 10, Laurie 2002.

12. See note 10, Laurie 2002:274.

13. See note 7, Turner 2009.

14. Suter, S.Disentangling privacy from property. George Washington Law Review 2004;72:737–814.

15. See note 14, Suter 2004.

16. Sperling, S.Knowledge rites and the right not to know. PoLAR 2007;269–85, at 282.

17. American Medical Association. Code of Medical Ethics, Opinion 8.08, Informed Consent. Washington, DC: American Medical Council; 2006; available at

18. General Medical Council. Consent: Patients and Doctors Making Decisions Together. London: General Medical Council; 2008, at paras. 14–15.

19. See note 6, Foster 2010:368.

20. Fortin, J.Children’s rights to know their origins—too far, too fast? Child and Family Law Quarterly 2009;21:336–55.

21. Re T (Paternity: Ordering Blood Tests) [2001] 2 Family Law Reports 1190.

22. Smart, C.Family secrets: Law and understandings of openness in everyday relationships. Journal of Social Policy 2009;38:551–67, at 558.

23. See note 20, Fortin 2009.

24. Harris, J, Keywood, K.Ignorance, information and autonomy. Theoretical Medicine 2001;22:415–36.

25. Rhodes, R.Genetic links, family ties and social bonds: Rights and responsibilities in the face of genetic knowledge. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 1998;23:10–30, at 18.

26. See note 10, Laurie 2002.

27. Raikkia, J.Freedom and a right (not) to know. Bioethics 1998;12:49–63.

28. See note 25, Rhodes 1998.

29. E.g., Asscher, E, Koops, B-J.Genetic diagnosis for Huntington’s disease: The right not to know and pre-implantation genetic testing. Journal of Medical Ethics 2010;36:30–3.

30. See note 14, Suter 2004.

31. Gilbar, R.Communicating genetic information in the family: The familial relationship as the forgotten factor. Journal of Medical Ethics 2007;33:390–3.

32. See note 31, Gilbar 2007:393.

33. General Medical Council. Confidentiality. London: General Medical Council; 2009.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
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