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Totalitarianism at the New York Times

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Once upon a time, the New York Times, like many companies, had a company doctor – a doctor who was available on the premises to attend to employees’ medical needs. Then, one day, the New York Times fired the doctor. They say it was “restructuring.” She says it was because she repeatedly refused to bow to pressure to betray patient confidence. She sued, but now she has lost. Evidently, in New York, you can get fired for anything, even for refusing to do something illegal:

Dr. Horn, who was the newspaper’s corporate physician, claims in court documents that she was fired because she wouldn’t comply with the company’s requests to see confidential patient medical records. She also claims that a vice president for human resources told her to try to curtail the number of workers’ compensation claims filed against the company by misinforming patients about whether their injuries were work-related.

The requests violate the AMA’s Principles of Medical Ethics. And the New York State Dept. of Health also advised Dr. Horn that following the requests would violate legal and ethical duties to patients under state rules, according to court documents.

The court decision reveals even more about the Times’ management:

According to Horn, on “frequent occasions” personnel in the Times’ Labor Relations, Legal and Human Resources Departments directed her to provide them with confidential medical records of employees without the employees’ consent or knowledge. She also claims that personnel in the Times’ Human Resources Department instructed her to misinform employees whether their injuries and illnesses were work-related so as to curtail the number of workers’ compensation claims filed against the newspaper.

I realize that the management of a newspaper is completely different than the men and women who write the paper, but this sort of behavior doesn’t speak well of the paper’s publisher. And now, under recently inacted privacy laws, it would be a federal crime to reveal those patient records without patient consent. Shouldn’t it also be illegal to coerce someone to hand over those records without consent? And, though it may not be illegal to do so, it certainly is unethical. Remember that the next time you read about Enron and other cases of corporate malfeasance in the Times.

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