I agree with the court’s rulings in the case of Daniel Hauser, highlighted in the media recently. In this case there is as absolute need to continue chemotherapy. It should however be pointed out that the Court ignored Mrs. Hauser’s demand for confidentiality and contributed to this case becoming a spectacle in the media and making Mrs. Hauser the focus of overwhelming media attention, pitting her beliefs against most of the country's. This injudicious conduct may have contributed to the panic of the mother to leave the jurisdiction and hide herself and her son.
The legal issues in this case are, as noted by Arthur Kaplan, from the University of Pennsylvania, on Anderson Cooper's program, are easy. Dr. Kaplan also noted that in many cases psychologists come on board and are generally successful in swaying the family and the minor patient toward recommended treatment. People struggle with medical decisions to withdraw and withhold medical care each day. Many of these dilemmas deal with children. Irrespective of the religious beliefs of the parents this child would nevertheless be required to undergo chemo therapy over the objections of the parents. If the parents were members of the Church of Christ - Christian Science or Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses - the same legal and ethical issues would have to be confronted.
Patients and their physician, family and friends need to feel free to turn to the court for assistance in controversies surrounding withdrawing and withholding medical care without fear of becoming involved in a media circus.
In this instance the parents adhered to beliefs of a Native American religion.Judge Rodenberg, without any legitimate connection with the legal issues presented, chose to publish his confidential question and answer cross examination of Daniel Hauser, on the court's web site, including inquiry about a Native American religion. This would not have occurred with other more traditionally recognized religions. There is no religious justification to withhold life saving treatment from a minor and the Judge had no legitiamate reason to make it a focus of inquiry.
The Judge ignored Daniel Hauser's right as a minor to confidentiality and this testimony should never have been published.
Daniel Hauser's physicians ignored their bioethical duties to utilize the services of a clinical bioethicist, a psychiatrist or psychologist to intervene and assist in facilitating the exchange of information regarding different treatments and the effectiveness, risk and effect on quality of life of these treatments verses the failing to treat.
If the testimony of Daniel Hauser is accurate, his personal physician never actually sat down with him and established a line of communication and did not engender a sense of trust.
P 25 of Daniel’s testimony:
Q. So he [Dr. Bostrom] did not actually tell you, you had cancer?
Q. Okay, so you learned of that from your mother?
Q. So you and Dr. Bostrom never talked to you like I am talking to you right now?
Daniel was able to understand the purpose of his biopsy procedure, the necessity of determining and distinguishing types of cancer, the need for an ultrasound and that ultrasound reflected the possibility of a pulmonary embolism, which could lead to his death.
Q. There was a problem with your left arm at some point?
A. If I moved my arm too much or jerked it, it could break off and go to the heart and I could have a heart attack.
Q. Did someone tell you that?
A. Yeah, the nurse did... I think they did an ultrasound or something……… I think (my arm) was warm…they found it was a clot and they said that could cause problems if it broke loose?
So, after one time of chemotherapy he experienced significant illness, weakness, and was caused to fear for his life. The judge did not directly ask him nor did he indicate any conversation with his physicians in which he was told that his life depended on him receiving continued chemotherapy.
Notwithstanding his age and his inability to legally consent or refuse treatment, a 13-year-old patient should be told, on a level that he can understand, of the ramifications and risks of accepting or refusing therapy.
On the issue of the medical confidentiality Daniel was entitled to have his medical care and medical history kept confidential. Notwithstanding his mother and/or father’s refusal of treatment, Daniel, through his mother demanded confidentiality. Mrs. Hauser specifically asked the judge to maintain confidentiality for her son.
Page: 60. Mrs. Hauser asked the court for a private conversation.
Mrs. Hauser’s demand: “I do not want this out of this room, okay?”
Judge Rodenberg responded:
“Well although you need to be mindful… my plan was to file a copy of the [Daniel’s testimony and medical information] … because – just so you are understanding, the public has a [page 61] legitimate interest in knowing what happened here today.”
The public, because of media attention, may be interested in a lot of things, yet, that does not mean that a patient loses his right to keep his medical care confidential. There is no evidence that Daniel Hauser ever put himself into the “public arena” and waived any confidentiality with respect to his personal life and/or medical care. Confidentiality should have been maintained.
If the court views that disclosure of information is necessary, than historically, the full name of the patient is kept confidential and the case is referred to as, for example, In re Daniel H.
For the Supreme Court of the United States, Justice Rehnquist wrote:
It is a hallmark of our juvenile justice system in the United States that virtually from its inception at the end of the last century its proceedings have been conducted outside . . . the public’s full gaze and the youths brought before our juvenile courts have been shielded from publicity. (Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co., 443 U.S. 97, 107, 99 S.Ct. 2667, 2671, 61L. Ed. 2d 399 (1979).
In West Virginia for example, in a case involving education records, the state Supreme Court of Appeals recognized the public policy of protecting the confidentiality of juvenile information in all court proceedings:
"we are loathe to allow one of the last bastions of privacy, juvenile confidentiality, to be diminished in the least bit,"
Unfortunately, normal and customary procedures for dealing with ethical issues in the medical community were not utilized and basic law protecting a child’s right of confidentiality were cast aside.
Bernard W. Freedman, JD, MPH