Pharmacist's Legal and Ethical Duties
The Pharmacist's Code of Ethics ("the Code") requires that a pharmacist must hold the health and safety of his patients as his first consideration. In this capacity, the ethical pharmacist must provide each of his patients with the full measure of his ability as a health provider, including using and making available all of his professional knowledge for the benefit of his patients. The Code also mandates that a pharmacist must respect the confidential and personal nature of his professional records and must not disclose such records to anyone without proper patient authorization, except in cases where the best interest of the patient requires or the law demands.
Emphasis is placed on the last clause because interpreting that clause will play a significant role in determining how a pharmacist may proceed in the case at hand. In this case, the pharmacist may have competing ethical obligations to Ruth and Milton, a married couple who are both patients. The pharmacist is obliged to protect the confidentiality of Milton's medical information. However, honoring that obligation might well be placing Ruth's life at risk. The question then becomes, "Is this situation one in which the pharmacist should or must violate Milton's confidentiality because it is in Ruth's best interest to do so, or because the law demands that he do so?"
The pharmacist should discuss Milton's condition with his attending physician and report Milton's condition to the local health officer. Both of these actions are protected by law, and both the physician and the local health officer may then contact Ruth to inform her of the possible threat she faces.
The pharmacist may honor Milton's confidentiality and not reveal to Ruth that he has AIDS.
The pharmacist may break Milton's confidentiality and reveal to Ruth that he has AIDS.
The pharmacist may ask Milton to reveal his AIDS status to Ruth.
The pharmacist may ...