Healthcare Robots and the Right to Privacy

author: Tjaša Zapušek, University of Copenhagen
published: July 24, 2017,   recorded: May 2017,   views: 1388


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The paper reveals author’s personal conclusions derived from the fact that an increasing autonomy of robots is not a science fiction, yet it presents a notorious feature of modern era that requires a comprehensive and systematic legal approach. However, a European Parliaments’ recently issued recommendation to consider robots as electronic persons seems inappropriate from human rights perspective and may reflect in serious violations of fundamental rights attached to all human beings. This article focuses on negative aftermaths of automaton and the impact they have on health law and the right to privacy. The fundamental principle of healthcare ethics, a protection of patient’s clinical records presents a cornerstone of doctor-patient confidential relationship. The latter is, due to its importance, protected not only by national health legislations, yet also by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Right to privacy. Among the latest medical achievements is the revelation of the alternative to a person in a white coat, a robot that can perform the surgery completely on its own, has individual sessions with autistic persons etc. As already mentioned, medicine is a profession that requires a certain level of maintenance of secrecy of confidential information and according to the previous Court’s decisions the secrecy is even more important in cases that involves psychiatric records. The robots’ involvement in medical treatments on one hand and easy access to the information they gain during the treatment on the other, bring into question the effectiveness of the provisions of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Law allows individuals, pledged to secrecy to bypass the provisions of Article 8(2) of the ECHR. The mentioned paragraph states, that any disclosure must be in accordance with the law and have legitimate purpose, moreover it has to be proportionate in accordance with the law and necessary pursuant to the democratic society. The presence of robot doctors rises many questions such as, what kind of consequences will have the disclosure by robot doctors? Does it mean that robots are/will be capable of evaluating the importance of particular information and therefore will it possess a moral sense? Or, will a robot, due to its mechanical nature be used as a simple tool in order to gain some important information that have been saved on the its disc? Current legislations in countries around the world do not put much attention on this particular area, even though the modern robotic approaches have already been introduced and also very well accepted.

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