Keeping a Confidence

Joel Lazer, CPA, CA, CIRPBlog, Consulting, HR, Leadership

I recall reading in The Ethicist, a column in The New York Times Magazine, about a doctor who had agreed to keep a patient’s confidence regarding a non-medical issue.  The patient had perpetrated a serious crime and someone else was convicted for it.  Should the doctor break the confidence?

If you’re asked to keep someone’s news confidential, you should tell that someone – before they tell you their news – that your sense of ethics may compel you to divulge their news if it’s warranted.  Then they can decide if they still want to confide in you.  Otherwise, like the doctor, you are placed in an untenable position.

Should he tell?  I sure think so.  An innocent person’s reputation and future are at stake.  Let’s not forget about justice, too.  Those are more crucial than the doctor keeping his word about not telling.

Be careful what you agree to listen to.  And be careful what confidential information – and who – you tell.  Ethics has a lot of grey areas.