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The Shooter Prevails: Protecting Seung-Hui Cho's Privacy

Just about the only good thing that might ever come out of the horror of the Virginia Tech shootings is the chance that our mental health system might be made more open and responsive. A new level of transparency would force colleges, courts and other arms of the mental health system to take responsibility for people who are clearly and desperately in need of help.

But the Virginia state panel investigating the shootings has already done enough poking around to show that any effort at reform will run straight into a solid wall built out of federal privacy regulations.

The state investigation has been unable so far to get hold of the records that would show how Seung-Hui Cho's mental problems were dealt with by the university or the state.

Even though Cho is dead, his records remain under lock and key because of a federal privacy law that keeps medical records sealed...forever. In general, privacy rights expire when you do. That's as it should be--what possible right to privacy can you have when you're merely a memory?

When the feds were writing new privacy rules a few years ago, the government initially proposed to keep medical records confidential for two years after a person died. But the feds caved to privacy advocates who insisted that releasing such records could hurt living people, for example, if genetic information about the dead person were made public.

"We understand that traditional privacy law has historically stripped privacy protection on information at the time the subject of the information dies," the U.S. Deparment of Health and Human Services explained. "However..., the dramatic proliferation of electronic-based interchanges and maintenance of information has enabled easier and more ready access to information that once may have been de facto protected for most people because of the difficulty of its collection and aggregation."

The rules are now so wildly slanted toward keeping secrets that hospitals, doctors, mental health clinics, universities and others who deal with people like Cho can pretty much do whatever they want, without any effective public check on their handling of a case. Even after a mass murderer dies, it's unnecessarily difficult to hold institutions accountable.

Virginia Tech officials have refused even to tell the state investigative panel whether Cho ever went to the school's counseling center after a court ordered him to do so in December 2005. University president Charles Steger said that he is "concerned about our inability to know these things.... Just saying we don't know is not good enough. We have to do better, but we must follow the laws."

Gerald Massengill, the former Virginia State Police superintendent who is running the state review panel on the shootings, says he may ask the State Crime Commission for a subpoena for Cho's medical files. That's the right move, and the next move after obtaining the records is to make them completely public. The people of Virginia have far more right to those records than does the Cho family.

The records of how public institutions dealt with dead people should be an open book. Anything else is simply a cover-up.



By Marc Fisher |  June 4, 2007; 7:33 AM ET
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Comments

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Marc, I wish I could share your optimism that the Virginia Tech tragedy will make our mental health system more responsive. All indications are that the mental health system will be re-criminalized, without expanded access to early mental health treatment from medical specialists who can accurately diagnose and treat mental illness.

Posted by: Mike Licht | June 4, 2007 8:56 AM

I don't agree with you Mr. Fisher. I feel that his parents have the right to decide if they want to share their son's records to the public. If it was anyone else's child I doubt that they would appreciate the invasion of privacy without their say so. We should not blame the parents for their son's actions. We all know that a mental illness is based on the biochemisty of an individual that does have a genetic link but not always. The parents themselves had no idea that their son was severely ill and I'm sure that they would have done something to help him if they had had the opportunity to do so. If the parents are willing to share their son's records than that is commendable on their part. The parents of Cho must also be in tremendous pain for what their son did and as well as his loss. They should have the right to keep his records confidential if they so chose because it was their son. I empathize with family and friends who lost someone but we must also consider that Cho's parents did not pull the trigger nor did they know of their son's illness. If there is anyone to blame it should be university policies that do not allow parents to know if their child may need additional support.

Posted by: Jessica | June 4, 2007 9:04 AM

Actually Jessica, his parents are more than willing to open the records. They don't have a choice. The law applies to his right to privacy, not the family's.

His family is just like the rest of us; hamstrung by the law that has been bent so far in favor of the criminals that honest citizens will always be the victims because honest citizens have no rights, only the criminals.

Posted by: SoMD | June 4, 2007 9:35 AM

"They should have the right to keep his records confidential if they so chose because it was their son."

What kind of crack are you smoking? Your absurdly pious defense of the Cho's supposedly sacred right to hide their son's medical records from scrutiny is pure bilgewater. Sorry, but when an adult guns down thirty or more people, HE LOSES HIS RIGHT TO PRIVACY, and HIS FAMILY MEMBERS SHOULD HAVE NOTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT. If you truly empathized with the families of the victims you wouldn't be so exquisitely concerned about the "rights" of dead mass murderers.

"If there is anyone to blame it should be university policies that do not allow parents to know if their child may need additional support."

Yes--and those university policies are based upon and reflect PRECISELY the type of PRIVACY LAWS THAT NEED TO BE CHANGED! Are you aware that your argument is incoherent?

Posted by: Dave | June 4, 2007 9:37 AM

At one point when I worked with private records the US LAW STATED THAT:

The dead have no right to privacy.

When did this change and when did this thinking change in the US culture? How can a dead person have a right to privacy? They're dead.

Posted by: DCer | June 4, 2007 9:55 AM

HIPAA strikes again. Another example of the law of unintended consequences.

Posted by: dirrtysw | June 4, 2007 9:56 AM

Yes, his parents do have the choice. Under HIPAA, the personal representative of a deceased person assumes all the rights to control access to the records that person on whom the records were made had. 42 CFR 164.502(g)(4) Furthermore, the authorities always have the power to subpoena the records. 164.512(e) Columns like this disgust me because they are based on little real information about what HIPAA actually provides.

Posted by: SJ | June 4, 2007 10:01 AM

Without a legitimate reason for access, for which the law provides a number of exceptionsthere's no good reason why the law should permit anyone to butt into the medical records of a deceased person anymore than a living person.

Posted by: SJ | June 4, 2007 10:05 AM

The law doesn't erect a "solid wall" preventing officials from obtaining records. All they need is a subpoena, and these are very easy to obtain. I wrote a blog post about this column at http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2007/06/too_much_privac.html
-- Professor Daniel J. Solove, GW Law School

Posted by: Daniel J. Solove | June 4, 2007 10:35 AM

Professor Solove's blog item concludes like this:
"The law isn't 'wildly slanted' toward protecting privacy; nor does it erect a 'solid wall' that prevents the investigation from getting the records. Nearly all privacy statutes allow government investigatory officials to obtain records with a mere court order or even a subpoena. The HIPAA regulations, for example, allow for the disclosure of health information pursuant to a court order or an 'administrative request, including an administrative subpoena or summons, a civil or an authorized investigative demand, or a similar process authorized under law.' The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act allows officials to obtain school records with a mere 'subpoena issued for a law enforcement purpose.' Subpoenas are very easy to use. So what's the big deal here?"

The good professor has presented us with exactly what the big deal is: the need to get a subpoena for what should be an automatic and simple opening of all records upon the death of any person. Only a law professor could use the word "mere" to refer to an onerous requirement such as obtaining a court order or a subpoena.

Posted by: Fisher | June 4, 2007 10:55 AM

Good Lord, what a misleading post, Marc. HIPAA of course has sensible exceptions that allow disclosure of medical records to law enforcement for the purpose of investigation. The problem with the Cho investigation is that the investigators haven't bothered to take the basic step of serving a subpoena for those records. Once they do, this imaginary "problem" will disappear.

The point of keeping medical records private is to encourage people to get help without fear of exposure. Many people would be deterred from seeking treatment if they feared public disclosure, and many of those people would be deterred even by the prospect of disclosure after death.

Suppose you needed serious mental health treatment. Would you want your family and kids to have to deal with the stigma of everyone in their neghborhood or school knowing that information, even if you just happen to drop dead innocently of a heart attack? Or would you decide that maybe you won't get that treatment after all?

HIPAA protects public safety. Marc can't articulate any rationale for public disclosure other than sheer voyeurism.

Posted by: Tom T. | June 4, 2007 11:06 AM

Go ahead, strike down one of the last vestiges of individual dignity in both our legal system and our culture. In the name of... what? I don't see a compelling reason here to attack perhaps the last of our privacy protections.

Colleges are not an 'arm of the mental health system.' And why should privileged information used in a post-mortem investigation have to made 'completely public'? The guilty party in this tragic massacre is dead, and I don't understand this need to point the finger at 'public institutions' as if they were in any way at fault.

Again, such a pointless pursuit hardly seems worth the potential destruction of the dignity of millions of people.

Posted by: Idiotic column | June 4, 2007 11:08 AM

One meeting with a judge - that's all it normally takes. 'Only a law professor' would describe that as less than onerous? Only a Metro columnist would so willingly and flamboyantly put his stupidity on parade.

Posted by: Court order/subpoena | June 4, 2007 11:19 AM

"Only a law professor could use the word "mere" to refer to an onerous requirement such as obtaining a court order or a subpoena."

"Onerous" -- do you have the remotest familiarity with how easily such documents are obtained?

Again, there's no good reason why "should be an automatic and simple opening of all records upon the death of any person." Only a journalist who is heir to all the worst impulses of his profession or a perverted snoop could come up with such a proposal and think it normal.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 4, 2007 11:23 AM

We don't need to know exactly what happened in Cho's case to figure out better ways of dealing with the legal issues surrounding mental illness. Mental health professionals and relevant policymakers should, instead, review current policies and practices with a view toward identifying flaws that could be remedied either through legislation or changes in administrative practice. Such an analysis should focus on identifying the ways in which individuals might come to the attention of mental health professionals (i.e., by self-referral, referral by law enforcement, recommendations of teachers) and assessing the procedures that are in place to ensure that the various agencies have ways of communicating with each other when such communication is deemed warranted by either legal or medical authorities.

Let's figure out how to deal w/ the communication and privacy issues associated with relations between health professionals and law enforcement in the future. The details of Cho's case are not going to tell us how to fix the system.

Posted by: THS | June 4, 2007 11:33 AM

Marc -- I'm not sure where you're getting the notion that subpoenas are "onerous" to obtain. This is simply false. Subpoenas are not "onerous" -- they are very easy to obtain -- easier than nearly any other way of getting information short of calling up and asking for it. Subpoenas often don't even require a hearing in court (unless the opposing party files a motion to quash). They have a very low standard (relevance). And they are issued in a fairly pro forma basis. Certain administrative subpoenas can even be issued directly by an administrative agency. In other words, subpoenas are incredibly easy to obtain.

By the way, schools and hospitals (and other entities) just can't hand over files to anybody who calls up and asks. If the government wants the information, it can obtain a subpoena -- a very easy step. The government does this all the time. It's standard operating procedure; there's nothing complicated, esoteric, or cumbersome about it. In fact, subpoenas have long struck me as too easy a way for the government to obtain data.

Posted by: Daniel J. Solove | June 4, 2007 11:40 AM

there's no good reason why the law should permit anyone to butt into the medical records of a deceased person anymore than a living person.
-----

Dead people have no rights. Dead people cannot:
1. get legally married
2. legally vote
3. expect a right to privacy
4. have the right to bear arms to form a militia

Dead people do not have any rights because they are no longer people. They were, but they aren't now. Someone argue against this one.

What's next, the estate of a person gets to cast their vote for the candidate the dead person would have wanted to vote for?

Posted by: DCer | June 4, 2007 11:42 AM

We don't need to know exactly what happened in Cho's case to figure out better ways of dealing with the legal issues surrounding mental illness. Mental health professionals and relevant policymakers should, instead, review current policies and practices with a view toward identifying flaws that could be remedied either through legislation or changes in administrative practice. Such an analysis should focus on identifying the ways in which individuals might come to the attention of mental health professionals (i.e., by self-referral, referral by law enforcement, recommendations of teachers) and assessing the procedures that are in place to ensure that the various agencies have ways of communicating with each other when such communication is deemed warranted by either legal or medical authorities.

Let's figure out how to deal w/ the communication and privacy issues associated with relations between health professionals and law enforcement in the future. The details of Cho's case are not going to tell us how to fix the system.

Posted by: THS | June 4, 2007 11:43 AM

We don't need to know exactly what happened in Cho's case to figure out better ways of dealing with the legal issues surrounding mental illness. Mental health professionals and relevant policymakers should, instead, review current policies and practices with a view toward identifying flaws that could be remedied either through legislation or changes in administrative practice. Such an analysis should focus on identifying the ways in which individuals might come to the attention of mental health professionals (i.e., by self-referral, referral by law enforcement, recommendations of teachers) and assessing the procedures that are in place to ensure that the various agencies have ways of communicating with each other when such communication is deemed warranted by either legal or medical authorities.

Let's figure out how to deal w/ the communication and privacy issues associated with relations between health professionals and law enforcement in the future. The details of Cho's case are not going to tell us how to fix the system.

Posted by: THS | June 4, 2007 11:45 AM

In their savvy lawyer-drafted single statement, released after days of careful preparation, the Cho's promised to "do whatever we can to help authorities understand why these senseless acts happened." Was that only for public consumption while the lights and cameras were still focused on them? Getting the records themselves and providing them to the commission would certainly be a fulfillment of this promise.

The Cho's behavior hints that they are more sorry and concerned for themselves than they are for the 32 innocent lives lost, and the lives that could be saved
by lessons learned from what may be revealed in those records.

Posted by: Walter | June 4, 2007 11:47 AM

My medical records should be open to the public upon death? Why, I committed no crime? Keep out of my private life, Whatever happened to civil liberties, start making exceptions and then no one has them.

You honestly want people to go through your medical records? Your mother's? Your father's?

Thanks for letting people die with a little dignity.


Posted by: stkfgas | June 4, 2007 11:50 AM

"Dead people do not have any rights because they are no longer people. They were, but they aren't now. Someone argue against this one."

The simplest argument is that one has a property right in one's medical information. Control of one's property does not normally pass to the State upon one's death but instead passes to one's estate.

Posted by: SJ | June 4, 2007 11:53 AM

Nor does the State get to decide the disposition of one's remain, much less allow anyone to dig them up for whatever use they have in mind.

Posted by: SJ | June 4, 2007 12:00 PM

Methinks Marc has some displaced outrage that occasions today's msileading rant.

In contrast to Marc's rant are the posts of Prof. Daniel Solove, who succinctly describes the ease of obtaining warrants.

Seems to me that VA officials wanted the Cho family to turn over personal documents without a warrant. WHY? A 32-count felony murder one is at issue. Any reasonable person would assume that the prosecution would get a warrant for Cho's medical and psychiatic records. And any reasonable judge would grant the prosector's request for a warrant.

Get a warrant, guys. It's that simple.

Or maybe Marc would like to see a government agency access his medical records jsut because they wish to.

Posted by: Mister Methane | June 4, 2007 12:41 PM

Excellent post, Mr. Fisher. Upon your death I would like to see a complete copy of your medical and financial records. I'd also like to see every email you ever sent, and I'd like to read your personal correspondance. After all, you're dead, so you won't mind, will you?

PS Same goes for your wife and kids. I'd like to see it all.

Posted by: Matt | June 4, 2007 12:43 PM

DCer doesn't seem to understand the difference between "legal" and "natural" persons - Washington Post Online cannot legally vote, get married, or go fight in Iraq, but that does not mean that we can call them up and demand any records of conversations between Fisher and his editors. Legal persons (like businesses) are given limited rights (like privacy) in the name of serving a public interest. Granting estates medical privacy is no different. Other public interests would always be served by *not* granting those rights - the Free Market would work better if consumers had the same information as complanies, for example - but living in the real world means choosing between conflicting Goods. In this case, the correct choice has probably been made.

Posted by: 333 | June 4, 2007 12:45 PM

Fisher gets pwned. Rock on professor

Posted by: dc | June 4, 2007 12:46 PM

The insistence that privacy laws do not "allow" access to medical records after death appears to be the result of administrative proceedures, not necessarily the actual law. We have seen this happen in many other cases, like Title 9. First, the Congress passes a series of laws and tells the Executive Branch to enforce them. The people who write the regs decide, for many different reasons, to interpret the law as being more draconian than Congress ever intended. Then, these regs get down to various schools and college campuses and, once again, get intrepreted by adminstrators and their legal assistants. At that point, what started out as a well intentioned effort to protect people often becomes a de facto iron chain. The rules are passed down from the local adminstration to those who must respond on a daily, even hourly, basis and those people, the people doing the work, are put into mortal fear of losing their jobs, and being sued, because of one slip up. "Obeying the law" has become a widely used excuse to do nothing when, in fact, the great fear, often exaggerated, is of law suits.

There is no compelling reason for the state to have access to my medical records, or anyone else who lives a lawful life, once I am waltzing with the angels. Virginia Tech is far different. This was a crime on a horrific scale and the public benefit of knowing far out weighs privacy "rights". In other cases, there must be a balance between the need to protect the community and prevent abuse by police and others who might want access to intimidate the dissenter or non-conformist.

I, for one, question whether the existing privacy laws actually prohibit access in all cases or whether those laws are merely being intrepreted as excessively limiting.

Posted by: Doug Terry terryreport.com | June 4, 2007 1:00 PM

The insistence that privacy laws do not "allow" access to medical records after death appears to be the result of administrative proceedures, not necessarily the actual law.

-----

Thank you, because while I'm no lawyer, I know from privacy law experience that what I wrote was the correct expression of the law.

------
Nor does the State get to decide the disposition of one's remain, much less allow anyone to dig them up for whatever use they have in mind.
-----

Wrongo! Eminent domain shuts down many an ancient local cemetery, moving the remains elsewhere. I remember this being an issue with an African-American cemetery around Norfolk about 30 years ago. Anyone remember this or am I mixing up details?

-----
Lastly, the US government has the medical records listing the cause of death of every person who is on the Vietnam Memorial wall. These records are owned by the people of the United States, the dead have no expectation of privacy, and I can peruse their cause of death at will. Ditto with medical reports from morgues and other official government records.

This is the way it should be.

Here's an intensely personal example:

My father lied to me about how my grandfather died. I got his death certificate during a genealogy study and found out he died after a car wreck. I got the police report and found out he caused the accident. I won't go into more details but it was bad.

munch on that over lunch.

Posted by: DCer | June 4, 2007 1:37 PM

http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2007/02/12/news/news02.txt

here's a quick story about eminent domain used to take over cemetery plots.

Posted by: DCer | June 4, 2007 1:41 PM

There are many different statutes on information release and privacy rights and they can be difficult to sort out and apply. I can imagine there may be relevant law within HIPAA and FERPA, and there is a Virginia medical records privacy law that is in some ways more stringent than HIPAA. Whether any of these ought to be changed is fair to debate. But an official charged with obeying the law is in a difficult position, especially since there may be recourse against the official personally.
In the mid-1970s, my father (now many years deceased) was records officer for the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, and he received a FOIA request from a reporter for Lee Harvey Oswald's Navy medical file. He requested guidance from Navy lawyers, and what they provided him was information about the penalties that could apply in the case of either decision, should a court rule it was the wrong decision. They did not recommend either granting or denying the request. The Privacy Act penalties were greater and potentially more personal. He turned down the request (whether because of the Privacy Act penalty, or just his personal notion of what was right, he didn't tell me). The reporter did not take it to court, so we don't know what would have happened there.

Posted by: WW | June 4, 2007 1:45 PM

Eminent domain is a lengthy legal process in which the state must prove there is a compelling public interest to be served in expropriating private property. The very article DCer cites makes that extremely clear. I'm not sure the existing methods for getting access to Cho's records without the consent of his survivors wouldn't be a whole lot quicker.

I am a lawyer and I've published a book chapter on how to get access to HIPAA protected records via subpoena.

Posted by: SJ | June 4, 2007 2:27 PM

My post was not questioning what has been written here, but, rather, the widespread assumption that these laws, as originally written, prohibit all access in all cases. What I suggested is that this could be a matter of interpretation. For one thing, the legal profession has a vested interest in making things as difficult and as complicated as possible whenever a new set of laws is past. Additionally, each major legislative reqirement affecting large groups, like schools, creates a new set of consultants who receive milllions of dollars helping those groups comply.

Until these privacy laws are tested in the courts, we have only the individual interpretation on which to act. A clerk standing behind a counter in someplace, Virginia, does not represent the Supreme Court nor, necessarily, the original intention of Congress. Of course, legislation can be too broad or poorly written. That's what we have a continuing Congress: to clean up messes like these.

Posted by: Doug Terry terryreport.com | June 4, 2007 2:48 PM

Professor Solove writes:
"By the way, schools and hospitals (and other entities) just can't hand over files to anybody who calls up and asks. If the government wants the information, it can obtain a subpoena -- a very easy step. The government does this all the time."

Well, before the recent spate of privacy laws turned our health system into a secret carnival in which hospital administrators and insurers can easily hide actions that family members and the citizenry need to know about, it really was just a matter of calling up and asking. Before we went privacy-mad, I used to walk into schools and hospitals and ask for records of some dead person I was writing about, and yes, the records would be handed right over. Which is as it should be: As several readers have shown in examples above, there are lots of reasons why a relative or a taxpayer would want to find out how Uncle Billy really died, or what disease your grandfather really had, or how a hospital really messed up a particular series of cases. All of this has now been put behind a tall, strong wall, and the idea that one would need a subpoena to breach that wall demonstrates that power has been transferred from the ordinary citizen to the lawyers and prosecutors.

SJ writes:
"I am a lawyer and I've published a book chapter on how to get access to HIPAA protected records via subpoena."

Wow: It's even worse than I'd thought. If the easy, simple way to open up records that the professor has been touting requires an entire book chapter to explain, then this is not what I would call an open or citizen-friendly procedure.

Posted by: Fisher | June 4, 2007 3:03 PM

FERPA protections end at death.

Once again, Dan Solove and I are in complete agreement, even though we come at this from different backgrounds. HIPAA has provisions for permitted disclosures. If Marc Fisher is frustrated that the investigating panel has not gotten information it feels it needs, then why have they waited so long to follow the proper channels to obtain the information?

More here:
http://www.pogowasright.org/blogs/dissent/?p=451

Posted by: Dissent | June 4, 2007 3:14 PM

DCer said:
"Dead people have no rights. Dead people cannot:
1. get legally married
2. legally vote
3. expect a right to privacy
4. have the right to bear arms to form a militia."

Hmmm..., lessee... a gay person living in DC is pretty close to being treated as if dead, no? ;-)

Posted by: CitizenW | June 4, 2007 3:39 PM

There is no reason the panel can't get the records through legal means in Virginia, in fact Gov. Kaine has promised that the state Attorney General will help the panel obtain the records. Cho's Temporary Detention Order and evaluation from 12/05 are already online as apparently all TDO's are a matter of public record in Virginia already.

We don't need less privacy in Virginia, we need more. As it is, people with psychiatric histories who are victims of crime can't obtain justice like other citizens because their psychiatric records are available to defense attorneys of their perpetrators, see: http://hymes.wordpress.com/2007/03/20/no-confidentiality-for-victims-leads-to-hung-jury/

If outpatient commitment had not been a legal option in 2005, as it should not have been, we might not have seen this tragedy happen at all, why not focus on that issue?

Posted by: Alison Hymes | June 4, 2007 4:56 PM

"Before we went privacy-mad, I used to walk into schools and hospitals and ask for records of some dead person I was writing about, and yes, the records would be handed right over. Which is as it should be: As several readers have shown in examples above, there are lots of reasons why a relative or a taxpayer would want to find out how Uncle Billy really died, or what disease your grandfather really had, or how a hospital really messed up a particular series of cases."

Fisher, you are insane if you think your ability to walk into offices and "just get" medical records so you could write a story was a good thing. No wonder the reputation of the media, and more importantly, the public's sympathy towards its demands for special treatment, is going down all the time. All we need is a journalist with the ethics of Judy Miller running around with free access to medical records. No, thank you.

And, ONE MORE TIME, for the slow among us -- Persons wanting to know how their relatives died should have no trouble, under HIPAA at least, getting that information if they are empowered to act in the other matters pertaining to the deceased's affairs.

As for how complicated the process for subpoenaing records is --- for a law enforcement agency, it's not much more complicated than filling in some blanks on a form and getting your supervisor to ok it.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 4, 2007 5:14 PM

I honestly don't understand why it is so important to have access to these records. Does anyone doubt that the shooter was mentally deranged? Who cares what he had? The mental health care system for the mentally ill and their families is horrendous. Until we as a society decide that mental illness deserves the same level of care as physical illnesses we will never be safe. Yet we are all outraged and shocked when these things happen. Look at the statistics. In 1955 there were 560000 Americans in state mental facilities. Today there are 55000. The LA County Jail is the largest public mental health facility in the country. We will never be safe from the Chos of the world until we make it a national priority to improve the system.

Posted by: the real issue | June 4, 2007 6:11 PM

You know, my brother's off to college next year. Because he's 18, he has to sign a paper allowing the college to send my parents information about his grades, or if was sent to jail, or even if he was placed in a mental institution. I think that's pretty awful that if my brother is diagnosed with some mental illness, it's his desicion whether or not to tell my parents.

Just a random tangent.

Posted by: Molly | June 5, 2007 9:30 AM

"he has to sign a paper allowing the college to send my parents information about his grades, or if was sent to jail, or even if he was placed in a mental institution. I think that's pretty awful that if my brother is diagnosed with some mental illness, it's his desicion whether or not to tell my parents. "

Without knowing the specifics of what your brother would have to sign, I can't say much about whether it is required by existing law or something the college has come uup for its own purposes. However, a major utilitarian purpose behind the ethic imperative of medical confidentiality has been that persons in need of mental health services are more likely to seek it if they are assured that their treatment will be solely between them and their provider. Often, those who make laws have to make hard choices.

Posted by: SJ | June 5, 2007 2:29 PM

Wow, some angry, bitter, anti-Marcists here. Just an FYI--as soon as I read the vitriol (and "words" like pwned--this isn't MySpace), I immediately skip to the next post. You can disagree without saying over-the-top stuff like "Only a Metro columnist would so willingly and flamboyantly put his stupidity on parade." Anti-Post agenda, much? Come down, Sparky.

Anyway,

"Until we as a society decide that mental illness deserves the same level of care as physical illnesses we will never be safe. Yet we are all outraged and shocked when these things happen."

Although I agree with you, I don't think the VT massacre is part of this larger problem in society--the killer consistently refused treatment. He wasn't just insane, he was criminally insane--that is (in my non-lawyer language), he was both nuts and yet he *knew* what he was doing was wrong, which is why he tried to hide it, and why he killed himself afterward, to avoid the punishment he knew was coming.

Posted by: ... | June 7, 2007 1:04 PM

I think the tenor of the reaction is partly due to the misinformation about HIPAA transmitted by Fisher and the underlying motivation that may explain that. Fisher's real beef seems to be not that law enforcement can't get Cho's records, but that journalists can't.

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