Participants’ safety versus confidentiality: A case study of HIV research

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When conducting qualitative research, participants usually share lots of personal and private information with the researcher. As researchers, we must preserve participants’ identity and confidentiality of the data.


To critically analyze an ethical conflict encountered regarding confidentiality when doing qualitative research.

Research design

Case study.

Findings and discussion

one of the participants in a study aiming to explain the meaning of living with HIV verbalized his imminent intention to commit suicide because of stigma of other social problems arising from living with HIV. Given the life-threatening situation, the commitment related to not disclosing the participant’s identity and/or the content of the interview had to be broken. To avoid or prevent suicide, the therapist in charge of the case was properly informed about the participant’s intentions. One important question arises from this case: was it ethically appropriate to break the confidentiality commitment?


confidentiality could be broken if a life-threatening event is identified during data collection and participants must know that. This has to be clearly stated in the informed consent form.

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