The Limits of Confidentiality and of the Right to Privacy: A Bioethical Approach of Social Work

The Limits of Confidentiality and of the Right to Privacy: A Bioethical Approach of Social Work

Elena Unguru (University of Oradea, Romania)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3090-9.ch010


Social work acts at within the public and private fields. From an ethical point of view, the first one is governed by the society's right to information and the social worker's obligation for transparency. The second one is the beneficiary's right to private life and the social worker's obligation of confidentiality. The two sets of competing rights and obligations define the dual nature of social work to act both in the public sphere, as well as the private one. Starting from the case of Tarasoff, the American instances stated that the obligation of the therapist to protect the possible victims is a priority to that of confidentiality. The current chapter follows the meaning of this obligation in the practice of social work, as well as the clarification of the importance and limits of applicability of the principle of confidentiality in social work.
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Confidentiality In Social Work

Confidentiality is usually seen as a key principle in the relationship between the social worker and the beneficiary (Collingridge, Miller & Bowles, 2008), since it leads to the construction of a relationship of trust between the two parts. Biestek (1957) considers confidentiality to be an essential principle for any helping profession, including social work. Confidentiality was defined by him as keeping the secret of information regarding the client, that the social worker has obtained during the professional meetings with beneficiaries. Confidentiality was understood as a decisive element in the development of the beneficiary social worker, based on trust (Frunza, 2011).

Confidentiality refers to the information obtained in privileged conversations, and generally refers to the communication that emerges within the counselling dimensions of social practice (Lasky & Riva, 2006). In social work, many of the services are based precisely on communicating the information on the beneficiary (see the situation of social benefits, of the advocacy in favour of the beneficiary or the group of beneficiaries, the need for positive discrimination of different categories of beneficiaries, etc.). In this situation, through the beneficiary’s agreement to participate in programs of social intervention, we presume the agreement to disclose information that are strictly necessary for the success of the intervention (Frunza, 2012). It is preferable that on the onset of the intervention, there is a contract of providing social services that would expressly contain informed consent from the beneficiary regarding the intervention and its limitations, implicitly the limitations of confidentiality and the type of information that will be disclosed for developing the intervention.

Respecting confidentiality is, from a (bio)ethics point of view, based on two principles: respect for the autonomy of the beneficiary and fidelity provided to the beneficiary by the social worker. Aside from these principles, the beneficence and the non-maleficence are strictly correlated with respecting confidentiality (Lasky & Riva, 2006).

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