Monday, November 23, 2009

* Death in Hanover and the Hippocratic Oath

Paulina Karpis reports tonight 11/23 the following sad story as an email bulletin in The Dartmouth, the student newspaper at Dartmouth College five miles from my home:

Henry Masters, a student in the master's of public health program at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, passed away this weekend after testing positive for the H1N1 virus. Masters had a chronic autoimmune disorder that College President Jim Yong Kim said in a campus-wide e-mail Monday afternoon was the "underlying cause" of his death.

Whether or not President Kim had the family's permission to discuss the deceased student's health situation is not the question. And we extend our sincere condolences to that family as we perhaps follow in the same dubious footsteps with this very commentary.

What is the question is whether or not it was in good taste to enter into such a discussion, regardless of the urgency of keeping the Dartmouth community from panic in reaction to the H1N1 death.

President Kim is a medical doctor as I understand it, not just a Ph.D. Patient/doctor confidentiality--and its certainty -- is the axis on which all medical interactions rotate in America.

To raise even the possibility that the certainty of that confidentiality was worth sacrificing to the College's need to maintain its composure and its public image, is a sad commentary.

Has corporate health trumped the Hippocratic Oath here?

First, do no harm. Even to a patient who is deceased. And to the profession.

Would it be different if Dr. Kim was not a medical doctor?

Yes: Just another bumbling bureaucrat.