Piercing the Privacy Veil: Toward a Saner Balancing of Privacy and Health in Cases of Severe Mental Illness

Jorgio Castro

Volume 66, Issue 6, 1769-1800

On November 19, 2013, Virginia state senator and former candidate for governor Robert Creigh Deeds suffered a high-profile attack from his son, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, resulting in permanent injuries to himself and his son’s self-inflicted death. On June 16, 2015, Senator Deeds addressed Congress to highlight one of the biggest challenges to providing adequate intervention and support for his son—the HIPAA Privacy Rule’s restriction on the release of protected health information to family caretakers. Senator Deeds’s high-profile story emerged as a national indication of a serious problem: the immense difficulty experienced by families trying to obtain critical information regarding their loved one diagnosed with serious mental illness. While the delivery of adequate mental health treatment is a large and complicated effort governed by many regulatory statutes, advocates have identified in particular the barrier on receiving information from health care providers regarding their loved one’s illness—particularly during involuntary psychiatric holds—as one key barrier to effectively assisting in their treatment. Although the Privacy Rule attempts to balance competing principles of respect for autonomy, the best interests of the patient, and efficiency of the system, it has created substantial barriers to effective treatment in this area without actually advancing its purposes. This Note suggests possible fixes for this exigent issue.

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