Dear Annie: Is it wrong or unethical to tell a friend that a mutual friend has COVID-19 without securing that individual’s permission to discuss their medical status?
I used to be a nurse before I retired 10 years ago, and I know it’s considered a breach of patient privacy laws to discuss the health status of those you are treating. But among friends, am I doing something wrong by telling another person that so-and-so has been sick with COVID-19?
I caught myself disclosing this about a mutual friend and now feel ashamed that perhaps I had no right to blurt it out. Maybe my sick friend did not wish others to know. This friend is a responsible person and is following all the guidelines and is not in any way the kind of person who would be careless and spread the illness.
Thankfully, he has a mild case, but it nevertheless has laid him up for a few days. I feel bad that I revealed this to someone who knows him well but was unaware of his illness until I spoke out. Did I have any right to disclose this or, for that matter, any other illness that someone has but has not requested privacy in the matter? – Racked With Guilt
Dear Racked With Guilt: From the way you signed your letter, you think that it was wrong to tell a mutual friend about your friend’s illness. If you were still working as a nurse and your friend disclosed to you that he had an illness, it would be a different story. But this sounds more like gossip than anything else. Gossiping does not feel good, which is why you feel guilty, but it’s time to let yourself off the hook. You made a mistake and learned from it, and now it is time to move on.
Tell your friend who had COVID-19 what you did, and my guess is that he will tell you to stop beating yourself up. Even if he doesn’t, life is too short to spend it feeling racked with guilt.
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