On Friday afternoon, a judge ordered the release of Christina Schumacher from Fletcher Allen Health Care. And I’m sure that First Amendment blunderbuss Mike Donoghue feels vindicated for repeatedly plastering her case all over the Burlington Free Press.
His editors apparently did; they went full-on tabloid with the story — the front-page headline screaming “COURT: RELEASE HER IMMEDIATELY” in bright red print and a font size normally reserved for national emergencies.
But I still believe he was wrong. There are good and valid reasons for medical privacy protections. Donoghue was alone in violating those protections. Everyone else kept silent: her caregivers, FAHC, her Legal Aid attorney, her family. Even the judge, who publicly released his bare-bones ruling but did not release the findings of fact and conclusions of law underlying the decision.
And even other news media: While Donoghue and the Free Press were tabloiding it up, nobody else reported on the case. I guess they’re all in on the plot, too.
So Donoghue gets to run a victory lap and move on to the next crusade, and Schumacher will return to her shattered life. I hope she makes it, I really do. And I hope the Free Press’ invasion of her privacy never rebounds against her — say, if she ever applies for a job and her prospective employer does a Google search.
We will never know why she was hospitalized, because the health care system protected her privacy. And in the process, allowed itself to be defamed without response. We will never know why the judge disagreed with her doctors, because he protected her privacy as well.
We will never really know if Donoghue’s publicity made any difference; the judicial process would have continued even if he’d never written a word. Presumably the judge’s ruling was based on his interpretation of the facts and the law, not on a blast of sensationalized reporting. If so, then Christina Schumacher would have been released regardless of Donoghue’s attentions.
Congratulations, Mike. I’m sure you got a nice little First Amendment stiffy when you heard the news. I still think you were wrong.