Sat, Dec 04, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Protecting the right to privacy

Taiwan has fought long and hard to achieve the democratic rights and civil liberties it now enjoys. That’s what makes it so disturbing to see individuals’ rights violated, whether by the state or by private citizens.

Many questions have been raised in the past week over the election-eve shooting of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Central Committee member Sean Lien (連勝文) at a campaign rally in Taipei County, both about the shooting itself and the extent of his injuries. There has been a growing clamor for his hospital records to be released publicly because of the reported speed of his recovery — and because of comparisons made to the shootings of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) just before the 2004 presidential election.

While National Taiwan University Hospital has given copies of Lien’s records to Taipei County investigators as part of the probe into the shooting, it has refused to release them to the public. The hospital said it could not make public the records of patients in cases that are under judicial investigation, adding that neither Lien nor his family had authorized the release of his records.

All the hospital needed to say was that Lien had not authorized the release. Period. That is his right, just as it is the right of every person in this country. Details of his injuries and treatment may eventually be made public as part of the prosecution of his alleged attacker, but until then only he can decide who should be informed.

Just think of the uproar last month when it turned out that low-level functionaries had disregarded the instructions of draftees about the handling of their exemption notices by sending the notices to their family homes because the men in question had HIV or AIDS.

Nor should we forget the media circus in 2004 (and ever since) over the Chen-Lu shootings — with all levels of medical staff coming out of the woodwork to comment on the veracity of the pair’s injuries or to deny them — or the fuss in 2005 when 12 physicians, led by then-legislator Peter Lin (林進興) of the Democratic Progressive Party, took it upon themselves to release what they claimed were the medical records of Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強). Hu, a KMT member, was running for re-election and had suffered a minor stroke while on a trip to California. Lin said the papers had been mailed to him anonymously.

While Taichung prosecutors later determined that the records were genuine and had come from -Taichung Veterans General Hospital, none of the 12 were prosecuted because none had actually treated Hu and no link was found between them and hospital staff. No one was ever prosecuted over the leak, although all 12 doctors were reprimanded by medical authorities and Lin, a physician, lost his license to practice for a year.

People were outraged that doctors were willing to disregard their professional ethics so easily and yet some of these same people are now demanding exactly that. Perhaps we have become too jaded by the all too frequent sight of TV cameras and photographers following hapless accident victims into emergency rooms under the pretext that any and all such intrusions are warranted by freedom of the press or “the public’s right to know.”

The public has the right to demand a full and fair investigation into the Lien shooting. It can call on Lien to authorize the release of his medical records. However, it cannot demand that the hospital or others release such data.

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