Recognizing the Right Not to Know: Conceptual, Professional, and Legal Implications

J Law Med Ethics. 2014 Spring;42(1):53-63. doi: 10.1111/jlme.12118.


This article argues for the importance of conceptual clarity in the debate about the so-called right not to know. This is vital both at the theoretical and the practical level. It is suggested that, unlike many formulations and attempts to give effect to this right, what is at stake is not merely an aspect of personal autonomy and therefore cannot and should not be reduced only to a question of individual choice. Rather, it is argued that the core interests that can be protected by the right not to know are better conceived of as privacy interests rather than autonomy interests. This not only helps us to understand what is in play but also informs regulatory, professional, and legal responses to handling information and taking decisions about whether or not to disclose information to persons about themselves. The practical implications of this conceptualization are explored in the context of feedback policies in health-related research.

MeSH terms

  • Confidentiality*
  • Disclosure / ethics*
  • Disclosure / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Genetic Testing
  • Humans
  • Patient Rights*
  • Personal Autonomy*