In an episode of the medical drama 'House', a patient needing a liver transplant is offered a live donation from her girlfriend. During the episode there's a continual argument over the ethics of whether they should tell the donor that the patient was about to break up with her prior to the hospital admission. I am wondering whether the doctor and patient, both strongly believing that the donor would withdraw consent if she knew, would be liable to lawsuit or even committed a crime by hiding this information? Would the doctors be obliged to tell the donor or even be allowed if they wanted to as it is not sensitive medical information?
The primary question is whether remaining silent would constitute a breech of medical ethics. The pertinent ethical principle is AMA Opinion 2.15 One of the requirements is that the donor be assigned an advocate team whose interest is the donor, not the patient, and these should generally be distinct individuals in order to avoid conflict of interest. Assuming that the donor's team is aware of this fact, they have a duty to disclose it, since it materially affects the donor's willingness to donate the organ. The ethical opinion does not specifically address "patient breaking up with a directed donor", but there is a general obligation to share information, and it would probably be found to be a breach of medical ethics to suppress relevant non-medical information. The ethics of directed donation from live donors is not well-developed.
I will mention that
Potential donors must be informed that they may withdraw from donation at any time before undergoing the operation and that, should this occur, the health care team is committed to protect the potential donor from pressures to reveal the reasons for withdrawal. If the potential donor withdraws, the health care team should report simply that the individual was unsuitable for donation. From the outset, all involved parties must agree that the reasons why any potential donor does not donate will remain confidential for the potential donor’s protection. In situations of paired, domino, or chain donation withdrawal must still be permitted. Physicians should make special efforts to present a clear and comprehensive description of the commitment being made by the donor and the implications for other parties to the paired donation during the informed consent process.
Neither team can tell the patient that the reason the girlfriend withdrew was because they ratted him out (anyhow, we can suppose she said something to him on her own).
The hospital knows this fact, and has both a duty to the patient to solve a medical problem but also to the donor to be sure that the consent is informed. The hospital would be suppressing a fact relevant to the donor's willingness to undergo the operation, which is a breach of duty. This fact is not protected by HIPAA, or any other California statute, so does not supersede the obligation to reveal relevant facts.