The defence of therapeutic privilege in Australia

J Law Med. 2003 Nov;11(2):201-13.


Therapeutic privilege is a defence that excuses a medical practitioner or other health professional from complying with the requirements of full disclosure to a patient in circumstances where it is reasonably considered that such disclosure would be harmful to that patient's health or welfare. Although the concept originated in the United States, the defence has been applied in Australia, and was specifically endorsed as part of Australian law by the High Court in Rogers v Whitaker (1992) 175 CLR 479. However, there has been negligible application of the defence since that endorsement. This article examines the doctrine of therapeutic privilege in the present Australian medico-legal environment. After an examination of the concept and its three constituetent elements, the article canvasses the limited instances of judicial approval of the defence prior to Rogers v Whitaker. The author then analyses, by reference to reported and unreported case law, why the defence has been so narrowly interpreted since, such that it has come to occupy an almost untenable position in Australia's medical jurisprudence.

Publication types

  • Legal Case
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Australia
  • Disclosure / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liability, Legal
  • Malpractice
  • Patient Access to Records
  • Patient Rights
  • Physicians / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Assessment
  • Stress, Psychological