Medicine: Private Lives

Protecting patient records

While recuperating from an operation for prostate cancer, a middle-aged Chicago machinist learns that a loan company is inquiring among his neighbors whether he can ever work again. In Hartford, Conn., a recent college graduate hears that she has been rejected for a teaching job by a private school because it has somehow found out that her mother is under psychiatric care. In New York City, women who have registered for abortions at a private clinic are besieged by phone calls from right-to-life advocates trying to dissuade them.

These typical cases represent violations of one of medicine's sacred trusts: the...

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