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Do we really need Lou Gehrig’s medical records

Feb 7, 2011, 11:32 AM EDT


This is kind of weird:

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn makes no bones about it: She wants the Mayo Clinic to release New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig’s medical records. Monday, she will introduce a bill permitting just that … Kahn’s bill would change state law to permit a records release without consent if the patient has been dead at least 50 years; Gehrig passed away in 1941. The records could remain sealed if a heath directive prevents it, or if a direct descendant objects. Gehrig died childless, so unless a will gets in the way, the public could have at it.

The reason for interest in Gehrig’s records is that stuff from last year in which it was speculated that, rather than ALS, he may have died from some sort of disorder that, while manifesting itself like ALS, was really the result of multiple concussions he suffered during his athletic career.

I know a lot of people will probably freak about this because we’ve gone insane about privacy in this country. Yes, I acknowledge that identify theft and insurance discrimination and all of that is a problem and I agree that safeguards have to be in place to protect folks, but the rhetoric surrounding “privacy” has gone beyond reason and is in fetish territory. Spend some time with a lawyer who does a lot of Freedom of Information Act requests and find out how much privacy you really have. Less than you think, I bet, and it’s generally OK.

Personally I would hope that a bill like the one proposed here is driven less by mere historical curiosity and more by actual medical utility (i.e. researchers can find value in looking over old medical records).  But really, if you’re dead 50 years, you’re dead 50 years and I don’t see any grounds for objection beyond appeals to amorphous privacy concerns.

  1. yankeesfanlen - Feb 7, 2011 at 11:41 AM

    Um….don’t we already KNOW concussions might be bad for us? I don’t have a real problem with privacy issues as such, I do think it is a waste of a legislators’ time to even bring up an issue such as this when there are so many financial problems facing state governments.

    • yankeesfanlen - Feb 7, 2011 at 11:44 AM

      Oh, and just to throw this in- Definitely, LEAVE LOU GEHRIG ALONE!!!

  2. Jonny 5 - Feb 7, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    It’s nobody’s right to delve into anyone elses medical history. I don’t care if you’ve been dead 200 years, or 500. What if Gehrig was plagued by STD’s? What if his records include he was born with both male and female genetalia? What if we just minded our own damn buisness for a change? I hope everyone sees this as yet another huge waste of a politicians time, which it is. I hope people get a better idea of why our political system is a wreck when seeing a person who’s served since 1972 wasting resources on crap like this. Oh, and this is the lady busted for stealing conservative literature from people’s door steps. People like this need to be purged from the system asap. It’s not their job to work on stealing conservative propaganda or airing anyones medical histories for the world to see.

    • wintwins - Feb 7, 2011 at 12:57 PM

      As far as it being no one’s right no matter how long they’ve been dead, you have to draw a line at some point. People are seemingly OK with exhuming and running tests on long-dead people to determine how they died. (Was King X poisoned? Was Van Gogh done in by lead poisoning? Mummies!)

      And even if Gehrig was an STD-ridden hermaphrodite, he’s not around to care, nor are his decendents. It may be a waste of time, but that doesn’t make it ethically wrong.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 7, 2011 at 1:48 PM

        Yes it is ethically wrong.

      • mrfloydpink - Feb 7, 2011 at 3:15 PM

        jonny5: Can you explain, precisely, why this is ethically wrong? Exactly who is harmed by this? Gehrig is dead and has no descendants.

        Also, it is odd for someone to speak of ethics and to advocate “purges” in the same post.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 7, 2011 at 3:32 PM

        Mr. Floyd

        “ethically wrong” does not require a living person being effected directly. Just as robbing tombs is “ethically wrong”. Or taking a bulldozer to Aztec ruins.

        “purging” just means to remove. Like by voting in a better candidate. Example.

        The unethical actions of Phyllis Kahn will likely lead to her being purged from office during the next election.

      • mrfloydpink - Feb 7, 2011 at 4:20 PM

        jonny5: I would submit to you that your grasp of the language is a little shaky. Until it improves, I might be careful about the vocabulary lessons that I give to others, if I was you.

        To start with the obvious, you mean ‘affected’ and not ‘effected.’ Further, if you think that ‘purge’ and ‘remove’ are perfect synonyms for one another–particularly when used to refer to people–then you are simply wrong. ‘Purge’ is, among other things, fraught with troublesome overtones that recall Stalinist Russia and other totalitarian regimes.

        Beyond this, however, you have never explained why it is wrong to make Gehrig’s records public. You see, I can explain why the other things you list are wrong. To wit:

        1. It is wrong to rob tombs, since that is disrespectful to and a theft from the people of the nation to whom the tomb belongs.

        2. It is wrong to destroy Aztec ruins, as that harms humanity by depriving them of an important historical artifact. It is further disrespectful to the culture of the Mexican people, and so does harm to them.

        Again, you have yet to say WHY opening Gehrig’s records is wrong, you’ve simply repeated over and over your assertion that it is wrong.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 7, 2011 at 6:52 PM

        Well now, it would be wrong because it’s personal information that is not anyone’s right or privilege to know unless that person agrees to divulge. Which as far as I know never happened. Confidentiality is a core ethical law for this reason. It’s none ya.

        BTW nice catch on “effect” But your ears are right around your gluteous maximus when it comes to your warped interpretation of “purged”. Here, look at the very first example of common uses

        Take it as you will, but I used it in a non violent, not “Stalinist” way. How do you say purged in Russian anyway?

      • mrfloydpink - Feb 8, 2011 at 2:04 PM

        Well, Jonny5, you continue to be unable to answer the question. And you also continue to demonstrate the utility of the maxim, “Better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

        To start, dictionaries generally cannot and do not capture the implied meanings of a word. Especially an online dictionary. The word ‘purge’ has an implied meaning, whether you know it or not. I suggest you consult a real dictionary, like the OED.

        Second, you have yet to explain WHY it is wrong. You just keep finding different ways to say, “It’s wrong because it is wrong.” Again, here is the question:

        What harm is done to people/society/the world/the system by releasing the medical records of a person who has been dead for 80 years and has no living descendants? What is the downside?

        I might add, there are valid answers to this question, even if I may disagree with them. You have failed to provide one, however.

        And speaking of your very interesting “lesson” in law, you might want to take note that the right to confidentiality–in most cases–expires when the person expires. As such, a psychiatrist (to take one example) is allowed to break doctor-patient confidence if the patient is dead.

      • uyf1950 - Feb 8, 2011 at 2:42 PM

        To myfloydpink – I will give give you an analogy why I believe it is wrong. While the analogy I’m about to give you is not medical related but I think you can see where I am going with it. I believe you have heard of the “slippery slope”. My first comment is where do you draw the line on allowing this information? Is it 80 years in this case. A few years down the road does it become 40 years? A few more years down the road does it become 2 years. That’s one example. My other example is one I believe is more specific and on target about the “slippery slope”. Some may not be old enough to remember. But several years back the government wanted to pass a mandatory seat belt law. Knowing they did not have the political where with all to require people to wear seat belts at the time I believe the original law merely stated if a person was stopped for some other traffic violation they could receive a warning ticket for not wearing a seat belt. As everyone knows that was just a disguise for the law in effect today. Now it is mandatory for drivers to wear seat belts whenever they step behind the wheel of a car and the law also applies to passengers. So as some believe what started out as a very minor infringement on a persons liberties, has come full circle. Hopefully you see where I’m going with this. The point isn’t about releasing a persons medical records after 80 years. The point is where/when does it stop and history teaches us when government is involved in people personal lives and personal decisions it doesn’t stop until they have gone to far and it’s to late to do anything about it.

      • mrfloydpink - Feb 8, 2011 at 3:43 PM

        ufy: I appreciate your attempt to engage with the question, rather than simply reiterating your belief, as Jonny5 does.

        That said, while I acknowledge that government authority generally tends to expand, I think your slippery slope argument fits roughly within the “straw man” category. That is to say, you’re right that the jump from 80 years to 60 is ultimately a small one, as is the jump from 40 years to 20 or 20 to 10. However, the jump that you propose–the one that you say would do harm–is an ENORMOUS one. It’s not from 80 years to 30 or 30 to 2, it’s from the dead to the living. There is a huge line there, and one that is not easily crossed.

        American jurisprudence already reflects an enormous respect for that line. There are many, many things you can do to dead people that you can’t do to live ones (i.e. if I want to call, say, John Wayne a wife beater or a Communist or a necrophile, I can with virtually no fear of recrimination; I can’t say those things about a living person, though). And that line has been firm for a long, long time with no sign of movement. I fail to see how opening up Lou Gehrig’s medical records will in any way threaten that line.

        One more note: There is a long tradition in America of re-examining the dead (their bodies, medical information, etc.) to make better sense of their fates in light of scientific advances that came after their passing. If digging up Jesse James in 1890 didn’t lay the groundwork for a privacy apocalypse, I don’t see why looking at Gehrig’s medical file would now.

      • uyf1950 - Feb 8, 2011 at 4:03 PM

        To myfloydpink – I have to disagree with you. I don’t think the leap from government interfering in peoples lives is that great of a leap from the dead to the living. You need look no further then the case involving Terri Schiavo several years back. The government tried very hard to interfere in a decision that was obviously a very, very difficult family decision. Once there is a crack in the door opening it doesn’t take much to kick it open. Again sorry but I have to disagree with you on this one.

    • baseballstars - Feb 8, 2011 at 12:50 AM

      I’m with Jonny 5 on this, and I don’t think it’s a fetish to want your private life to remain such.

  3. BC - Feb 7, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    He was a first baseman. With apologies to Justin Morneau, how the heck many concussions could he have had? And I never recall any stories of him getting beaned. Seriously folks, don’t we have more important things to think about?

    • aleskel - Feb 7, 2011 at 12:18 PM

      IIRC, the HBO Real Sports piece about this discovery listed a number of times he was beaned, including one that he was knocked unconscious. He never sat out a game to recover from any of them (of course) and as we’ve discovered a lack of rest and recuperation has an enormous impact on the long-term effects of concussions.

    • Professor Longnose - Feb 7, 2011 at 1:29 PM

      If unsealing his records could help people diagnose or treat either ALS or concussions, then it would be a significant boon to the health of the world. No, we don’t have very many things better to do.

      And just because we can’t solve a serious problem, doesn’t mean we should forget about solving other problems. Spending more time on the budget crisis won’t help; everyone knows what the problem is, and everyone knows the politics that refuse to allow it to be solved. Spending more time on it won’t help. The only way to help is to change the nature of our society; the only way to do that is to educate people; and the only way to do that is to make people understand that learning something when you can is a good way to approach the the problems of the world.

  4. sdelmonte - Feb 7, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    I am so glad that our elected officials have time to deal with such crucial matters.

    • Cran Boy - Feb 7, 2011 at 1:41 PM

      Actually, here in NY we have a budget due in April and under our farcical system, it’s negotiated almost exclusively among the governor, Assembly speaker, and Senate majority leader. So the vast majority of our elected officials in fact don’t have all that much to do other than figure out HIPAA workarounds for dead people and the like.

  5. aleskel - Feb 7, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    The issue here, I think, is that even accessing Gehrig’s records wouldn’t provide a lot of insight into his ALS. I have a friend who works in brain imaging, and according to him to investigate disorders like ALS or Alzheimer’s you really need to take brain tissue samples. I’m guessing that in 1941 they didn’t take the kind of samples that would be useful today.

    • Professor Longnose - Feb 7, 2011 at 1:25 PM

      True, but the medical records might suggest that Gehrig didn’t have ALS, but that he instead had concussions. It could be valuable info.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 7, 2011 at 1:51 PM

        It would be just as valuable as assuming he died from concussions. So lets do that. Protect against concussions better. Oh wait, they already are doing so…

  6. uyf1950 - Feb 7, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    To Craig : Not to get off the subject of this piece. But I was wondering if there are any legs so to speak on the attacked link about John Danks and potential Yankee interest.
    In case you have not seen it here is the link. What are your thoughts.–20110205,0,6563579.column

    • spudchukar - Feb 7, 2011 at 3:48 PM

      UYF, While it is true the Pale Hose have extra starting pitching, the proposed swaps, fail to make sense. First off they are all over the place so it is kinda hard to get a pulse on the possibilities. Why would the Sox be interested in trading an established lefty who is under their control for two more years for either Montero, when they are DH heavy, or Betances another promising but unproven southpaw? It is hard to fathom why they would be interested in Chamberlain or Mitre. Nor Gardner, when they already have Pierre. And I would be surprised if the Yanks would be willing to part with Granderson.
      Plus, since Peavy is iffy early in the season, it is more likely a deal would be consummated in June or later. Look, I like Danks, and he would be a great fit, but from Chicago’s perspective, it is hard to figure out how such a move would be very beneficial.

      • uyf1950 - Feb 7, 2011 at 5:37 PM

        I think poster are underestimating Montero when all they do is figure him as a DH. While that may be the case today. There is nothing to say that he can’t hone his defensive skills or even move to another position in the next year or two. I do not see the Yankees parting with Betances btw he is a righty. As for the comparison between Gardner and Pierre. Gardner is younger, far less expensive for several years to come and has much more upside potential then Pierre. And to be honest, in my opinion is a better player then Pierre right now. The article implies Danks, Quentin or Pierre for some combination of Yankee players/prospects. I can see the Yankees parting with Joba, Mitre, prospect (for example Romine or Phelps) and Granderson for Danks and Quentin. That’s just my opinion. But I guess that’s why those guys get paid to be GM’s and we don’t. It’s fun to think about though.

  7. The Baseball Idiot - Feb 7, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    Stephen Hawkings is really getting to be a pain in the ass.

  8. chicagofan - Feb 7, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    I can answer that question without exhume his body or checking his medical record–he did not die from disease related to multiple concussions. I have been in medical practice for 25yrs and this is dumb. Some movement disorders like Ali has are possible from concussions but that does not kill you or cause paralysis.You do not have the right to see medical records to satisfy your curiosity.Boxers and others have more concussions than Gehrig ever had and did not end up with ALS like sx.Stupid is stupid.

  9. Dan in Katonah - Feb 7, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    Health care? Unemployment? Poverty? Crumbling infrastructure? Declining educational rankings?
    No, let’s not delve into those issues. Not sexy enough. Let’s dig up Lou Gehrig and check out whether he ever had the clap. Least earned paycheck ever…

  10. Rosenthals Speling Instrukter - Feb 7, 2011 at 2:42 PM

    Everytime I read about Lou, all I can think of is that Family guy segment. It was so wrong yet so funny. I laughed my ass off but felt ashamed afterward.

  11. Adam - Feb 7, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    I don’t get what the hell good Lou Gehrig’s records are going to do. There are so many other people who have had ALS that could give them guidance that haven’t been dead for over 50 years.

    • spudchukar - Feb 7, 2011 at 4:44 PM

      Adam, think. How many of those other people have been beaned, and never taken a day off to recover?

  12. Reflex - Feb 7, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    You may think privacy is into fetish territory, but some of us think it is not taken nearly serious enough. Feel free to compromise your own privacy. You may even never have any negative results from it. But let me be as private as I wish to be. Including my medical records, which are nobody’s business.

    I submit the following: You can view the medical records of the deceased, but only so long as you grant us the right to have our records destroyed upon death as part of our final requests. That way those of us who wish to remain private even in death, can do so.

  13. lgehrig4 - Feb 7, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    This ignorant bitch should leave this man alone and let him rest in peace. Why dont this dumbass find something productive to do?

    • mrfloydpink - Feb 7, 2011 at 5:53 PM

      “Why dont this dumbass find something productive to do?”

      That’s certainly the most thoughtful, intelligent, well-written comment I’ve seen in a while.

  14. sammydog99 - Feb 7, 2011 at 7:10 PM

    So “we’ve gone insane about privacy”. What a laugh. Your ilk has gone insane about sticking their noses into other people’s business more like. And a pathetic arguement to rationalize it too. Mr. Gehrig’s medical history is still none of yours or our business.

    • sammydog99 - Feb 7, 2011 at 7:13 PM

      …meaning Rep. Phyllis Kahn, not Mr. Calcaterra

  15. largebill - Feb 7, 2011 at 11:20 PM

    As an amateur historian I’ll admit to a morbid curiosity about various historical figures. I’ve read articles over the years about exhuming past presidents, etc with mixed emotions. Sure, I suppose I should care whether Lincoln had Marfan syndrome. However, I came away thinking our desire to know doesn’t outweigh the right to rest in peace. Beyond that, proper medical care depends on patients believing they can be open and honest with their doctor and the information will stay private. Doctors have said the biggest impediment to good medical care is failure to elicit valid patient information. Could a high profile and publicized example of voyeuristic peaking into medical records cause people to be more reticent in medical screening? Consider the questions asked when visiting a doctor.
    How much do you drink? Only socially (means 12 pack a night)
    How many sexual partners? Oh, happily married, Doc. (who knows?)
    Do you exercise?
    Etc, etc, etc.
    Bottom line, benefit of violating patient privacy is not outweighed by the dubious potential benefits.

  16. evanpenn - Feb 8, 2011 at 12:44 AM

    This seems to be a basic philosophical disagreement about whether the dead have rights to “privacy”. My opinion is they don’t, because…they’re dead, so it has no affect on them. Privacy is for the living, simple as that. As to “the right to rest in peace”, I have no idea what this means. The dead will rest in identical peace, regardless of what is or isn’t done here on earth.

    More simply put, in a philosophical argument: Does it matter to you what people, who you never met, think about you when you’re dead? One of those arguments you can’t win on either side.

  17. frankvzappa - Feb 8, 2011 at 4:48 AM

    they have already taken all the privacy away from the living, so why not go after the dead now too?

  18. Panda Claus - Feb 8, 2011 at 8:47 AM

    If it turns out Lou Gehrig did not actually die of “Lou Gehrig’s” disease, do we have to/get to rename it to something else? Other than the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) technical name? Because that last one is just too difficult to roll off the tongue.

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