|The Future of Freedom Foundation|
As tempting as it sounds, I doubt that families throughout America will be eager to put aside football and the traditional reminiscing over turkey dinner to catalogue the diseases that have afflicted their recent and distant ancestors. But there is a much more serious reason to be wary of Carmonas suggestion.
It is certainly a good idea to know ones family medical history. As Carmona says, When a health-care professional is equipped with a patient's family health history, he or she can easily assess the inherent risk factors and begin tests or treatment even before any disease is evident. But because the government is so deeply involved in our medical affairs, what is sensible in principle is folly in practice.
There was a time when what you told your doctor was confidential. The information could not be passed on without your consent. But no more. The federal governments misnamed medical-privacy rule changed all that. Now whatever you tell your doctor can end up in lots of peoples computers without your permission or, in many cases, your knowledge. Under this rule, says Sue A. Blevins, president of the Institute for Health Freedom, the information can be shared with over 600,000 hospitals, doctors, insurers, medical data-processing companies, public-health departments, and others without the individuals consent. Patients are not even owed an accounting of how their personal information was distributed for most purposes. All this is compliments of a government that claims to be protecting our privacy.
According to officials, a thorough family medical history includes not only heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and the like. It also includes so-called mental diseases, such as depression and schizophrenia, which actually are names for bothersome behavior and statements, not bona fide physical ailments. A person who confides to his doctor that his grandfather was depressed or committed suicide could be compromising himself in untold ways. The Bush administration is already pushing to have general practitioners look for signs of mental illness in all patients, including children. If this happens, perfectly well people will be stigmatized and possibly subjected to powerful drugs.
Government actions always have perverse and unintended consequences. When people realize that they have no confidential relationship with their doctors, they will have an incentive to provide inaccurate information when asked for a family history. What will the coming comprehensive computerized medical databases be worth then? Its hard to see how they will help make people healthier.
One health-policy expert I know has a better idea: I think the Surgeon General has a duty to warn the American public about how the so-called federal medical-privacy rule is really a data-sharing rule because it eliminates patient consent. Perhaps we need a surgeon generals warning that says something like, Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that under federal law, anything you tell your doctor can be shared without your consent or knowledge.
Those words should be posted outside every doctors office.
Leave it to the government to turn prudence into foolishness. Our wise leaders have left us at an uncomfortable fork in the road: We can have doctor confidentiality and accurate medical information or the bogus federal medical privacy rule. We cant have both.
Samuel Bostaph is head of the economics department at the University of Dallas and an academic advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation
Anthony Gregory is a policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation
James Bovard is author of The Bush Betrayal and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation
Benedict LaRosa is a historian and writer and serves as a policy advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation
Bart Frazier is program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine.
Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.
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