The Violation of Britney Spears

Even grey-haired people like me can have a teachable moment.

Working as a nurse in elder homecare I am privy to confidential information. I am complicit in the leveling of acres of trees as my employers generate endless paperwork for HIPPA. I explain privacy rights to patients as their eyes glaze over and they sign forms that they will never read. Then they tell me about their gallbladder operations and their sons who will be coming up for parole next summer.

I know who is overdue to get her toenails cut, and who keeps four cats in an apartment that is ‘no pets allowed’. This is about as exciting as it gets for me. I am a well of secrets.

I’ve been very blase about it all, and this story didn’t really get my attention…

Hospital Workers Fired for Snooping on Spears

The University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center where singer Britney Spears was hospitalized earlier this year is firing at least 13 employees and suspending six others for peeking into the star’s confidential medical records, The Los Angeles Times reports.

The newspaper also says six doctors face disciplinary action for peeking at Ms. Spears’ computerized records related to her recent stay there for psychiatric evaluation.

I thought that the 13 who got fired broke the rules bigtime, and should have known better. I noticed that the doctors, who probably lead the raid on Ms. Spears’ personal records, got a slap on the wrist. No surprise.

If a famous person’s records were in one of my workplaces I wouldn’t touch them unless I had a legit reason. I don’t know what I would do if someone opened a chart in front of me. It’s the dark side of human nature that we will do things in a group that we would be ashamed or afraid to do alone. I picture someone crossing the line. Others follow, wanting to be part of the gang. Now they’re part of the unemployment line. Better luck next time guys, that was your teachable moment.

My teachable moment came while doing a shift in a women’s clinic. Young patients in and out of exam rooms, stacks of charts everywhere. The half hour that the patient spends with her practitioner may be the only time she can speak in confidence, with the assurance that her care providers will respect her privacy. This is not only ethics, it is the law. HIPPA may be a paperwork-generating pain in the butt, but it is morally right. We will go through many variations of law as society changes. The principle of confidentiality is worth taking a stand for. It is unclear whether the Constitution grants a right to privacy, so we may need an amendment as the 21st Century provides more and more ways to get into one another’s business.

I worked in the clinic and I thought about Britney Spears. She’s a young mother who is having emotional problems. Where is her safe space?

Yeah, she’s famous, tabloid fodder. She was asking for it, she gets off on it, fame and notoriety. But she was sick in a hospital. Doctors, nurses, paramedical workers were all paid and entrusted to give her the same care they would give anyone. And they didn’t.

Seeing unfamous young mothers going through mundane life problems that nobody will sell to the tabs, I felt sorry for Britney. Our secrets are precious. Our trust is precious. Rich or poor we are human beings and each of us has worth and dignity.

Shouldn’t there be a safe space? Where the patients, famous or unknown, will be given simple human respect? If a hospital is not safe and private there is not much else left.

If Britney Spears follows the American sex-symbol script she will be dead before she is old. The tabs will cannibalize her death the way they do her life and her innocent children’s. She will be the target of the envy and the admiration and the hidden, unfocused class rage that is building like a volcano under American life. Her relics will be sold on e-Bay.

I hope she beats the odds and finds a better way. I hope that (pagan as I am) we Americans will reclaim our civic pride and self-respect. Part of the social contract is that we support the institutions that we rely on. Each of us depends on the discretion of those we trust with our health.

Britney Spears was violated. She is a human being and she had a right to expect basic honesty and respect from the professionals who cared for her. They forgot to be professional and treated her medical record like a supermarket tabloid. We should all back off, and look at our own lives. That might cut into the audience for Britney and all the other crash and burn performers, but they’ll get by.

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