Jason Pierre-Paul and the Dubious Ethics of Medical Reporting

Amidst the the grotesque grandeur of the Jason Pierre-Paul saga, we are ignoring something crucial.

The public discovered the New York Giants’ defensive end had his finger amputated after ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted a picture of Pierre-Paul’s medical records, presumably obtained from the South Florida hospital where the procedure took place after the fireworks incident that occurred just a little earlier in the week.

But while we wonder what this means for Pierre-Paul’s future, are we not the least bit disturbed by what would appear to be a massive violation of privacy?

HIPAA laws are laws that prevent health officials from sharing private medical information about the patients they treat. Per Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann, Schefter did not violate HIPAA laws:

But who cares whether it was legal or not? What Schefter did was highly unethical regardless.

It’s not that the injury shouldn’t have been reported – it’s relevant to Pierre-Paul playing status for next year and his continuing contract talks with the Giants. Therefore, it’s relevant to Schefter’s job. But the whole medical chart? Suddenly, Pierre-Paul’s legally protected medical information has been shared with the entire world.

If the difference between tweeting the injury and tweeting the picture isn’t clear, here’s an analogy: The social security numbers of millions of Americans were stolen from federal databases this week. News outlets reported this, and rightly so. But what if, instead, they had reported the specific social security numbers that were stolen and who they belonged to, even if they obtained the information legally?

Obviously, the would be a huge privacy breach, and would spark outrage. This situation should do the same.

The intent of HIPAA laws is to protect patient privacy. Although the laws don’t technically apply to a reporter like Adam Schefter, they still set an ethical standard that he clearly violated. Schefter will likely not face real repercussions for his tweet, but he certainly should.

There’s no way to get around this one: Adam Schefter violated journalistic integrity, human morality, and Jason Pierre-Paul’s privacy. The employee who released Pierre-Paul’s record will have to face the music, but Schefter should, too.

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