State Rep. Phyllis Kahn makes no bones about it: She wants the Mayo Clinic to release New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig’s medical records. Monday, she will introduce a bill permitting just that … Kahn’s bill would change state law to permit a records release without consent if the patient has been dead at least 50 years; Gehrig passed away in 1941. The records could remain sealed if a heath directive prevents it, or if a direct descendant objects. Gehrig died childless, so unless a will gets in the way, the public could have at it.
The reason for interest in Gehrig’s records is that stuff from last year in which it was speculated that, rather than ALS, he may have died from some sort of disorder that, while manifesting itself like ALS, was really the result of multiple concussions he suffered during his athletic career.
I know a lot of people will probably freak about this because we’ve gone insane about privacy in this country. Yes, I acknowledge that identify theft and insurance discrimination and all of that is a problem and I agree that safeguards have to be in place to protect folks, but the rhetoric surrounding “privacy” has gone beyond reason and is in fetish territory. Spend some time with a lawyer who does a lot of Freedom of Information Act requests and find out how much privacy you really have. Less than you think, I bet, and it’s generally OK.
Personally I would hope that a bill like the one proposed here is driven less by mere historical curiosity and more by actual medical utility (i.e. researchers can find value in looking over old medical records). But really, if you’re dead 50 years, you’re dead 50 years and I don’t see any grounds for objection beyond appeals to amorphous privacy concerns.