Medical reality shows exploit privacy of the dead


Jackie Sedley - Staff Writer, Photo courtesy of Google Images

Many lives have been affected by a lack of medical privacy. Very often, tragic deaths have been exploited in the media without the consent of the deceased or their loved ones. In fact, the drama of real-life hospital patients in critical condition acts as the focal point for reality shows such as “NY Med” and “Trauma: Life in the E.R.” These invasions of privacy cannot technically be classified as “illegal,” because as long as the patient’s identity is protected, the law does not forbid trauma cases from being shown on television. Although the creators of these television shows argue otherwise, they clearly exploit patients’ pain and suffering with the sole intent of increasing viewership. Additionally, the recovery process one must go through after the death of someone close to them becomes nearly impossible when reminded of a loved one’s passing.

For the most part, any television show that focuses on exploiting the personal lives of another is created for the purpose of acquiring fame or profit, despite the supposed intentions of the creators. “NY Med” is a medical documentary series which follows the lives of medical staff and patients at various hospitals around New York. This show obviously takes advantage of the patients’ vulnerability and disrespects their privacy entirely. According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the intimate details of a person’s health may be shared solely with the patient and whoever is entitled to know the information. These measures are enacted in an attempt to protect the confidentiality of healthcare information. Over time, these laws have been taken less seriously. Loopholes are exploited by attention-seeking television experts such as “NY Med” executive producer Terence Wrong, who has sacrificed his morals just for the “perfect shot.”

“You can be shut out of a critical moment that the case lacks emotional resonance without,” said Wrong to “[Such as] the ‘goodbye’ moment. If you don’t capture that moment, because a nurse shut the door on your camera’s face, you kill that piece.”

To relive a traumatic episode is to bring those affected by the occurrence back to the mindset they were in when the event took place. Often, being forced to relive an agonizing experience leaves the inflicted with more misery than originally felt. Revisiting the past in this particularly cruel and invasive manner can spark unbearable and intolerable ramifications, re-opening wounds and leaving permanent scars. For example, when New Yorker Anita Chanko lost her husband Mark Chanko in 2011 to a car accident, the last thing she expected to see 16 months later was her husband dying right before her very eyes on television. “NY Med” had filmed her husband’s surgery and attempted to record the Chanko family’s initial reaction to their loss, but not one person had asked any member of her family permission to film.

“I see the doctor that treated my husband [on television],” said Anita Chanko to The New York Times. “And then I see, even with the blurred picture, you could tell it was [my husband]. I hear my husband say, ‘Does my wife know I’m here?”

Exploitation of the dead paired with a total disregard for medical privacy is a toxic match that must be broken apart permanently. A family cannot possibly be expected to trust a doctor to maintain the life of their loved one when they cannot be trusted to maintain confidentiality.