The Legacy of the Cartwright Report: “Lest It Happen Again”


The 1987 Cartwright Report into events at New Zealand’s National Women’s Hospital catalysed sweeping changes to promote and protect patients’ rights. A generation on, it is comfortable to believe that such sustained and deliberate violations of patient rights “couldn’t happen here” and “couldn’t happen now.” And yet, contemporary examples beg a different truth. Three of Cartwright’s messages hold an enduring relevance for health practitioners and patients: the need for patients to be respected as people; to be supported to make informed choices; and to have their voices heard, even when they whisper. These challenges cannot be met in isolation from broader determinants of patients’ rights and will require social, technological, and cultural change in order to prevent another “unfortunate experiment.”

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An earlier version of this paper was presented at “The Cartwright Legacy at 25 Years” held in Auckland on September 27, 2013. Our thanks to The Cartwright Collective for convening this conference and providing insightful suggestions for revisions.


Marie Bismark is a director of the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, which aims to better understand the influence of technology on young people’s health and well-being.

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Correspondence to Marie Bismark.

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Bismark, M., Morris, J. The Legacy of the Cartwright Report: “Lest It Happen Again”. Bioethical Inquiry 11, 425–429 (2014).

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  • Cartwright Inquiry
  • Patients’ rights
  • Medical regulation
  • Informed choice