Monday, February 24, 2014

Misadventures in medical ethics

Maybe many people wondered whether TSA agents joked about our exposed bodies as they passed through the xray machines at airports, but fewer of us thought that the radiological images of our deceased loved ones would be the subject of facebook humor by radiologists. At least I hadn't thought that. Until I read this, about radiologist and Kansas GOP senate candidate Milton Wolf.
U.S. Senate candidate Milton Wolf posted a collection of gruesome X-ray images of gunshot fatalities and medical injuries to his Facebook page and participated in online commentary layered with macabre jokes and descriptions of  carnage.
Wolf, a Johnson County radiologist anchoring a campaign for the Republican nomination with calls for federal heath care reform, said in an interview the medical images were legally uploaded to public social media sites and other online venues for educational purposes. They also served, he said, to demonstrate evil lurking in the world.
However, Wolf and others viewing these Facebook postings relentlessly poked fun at the dead or wounded. The gunshot victim, Wolf joked online, wasn't going to complain about the awkward positioning of his head for an X-ray. In a separate Facebook comment, Wolf wrote that an X-ray of a man decapitated by gunfire resembled a wounded alien in a “Terminator” film and that the image offered evidence people “find beauty in different things.”

You know, de gustibus non est disputandum. But there is less dispute in the field of medical ethics:
An array of professionals involved in medical ethics who viewed the images or were provided a description of the materials made public by Wolf condemned his airing of the information outside confines of a doctor-to-doctor consultation or for the purpose of formal medical research or textbook instruction.
"The dignity and privacy of the individual should be protected,” said John Carney, president of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo. “It doesn't sound like they're being protected if they're, obviously, on Facebook.”
Carney said the summary of Wolf's postings provided to him would be widely viewed as “beyond alarming for a professional in the field of medicine.”
Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo., where Wolf said he obtained the decapitation X-ray, said in response to an inquiry Friday it wouldn’t have granted Wolf permission to use images of a shooting victim in this manner. Officials at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, linked to X-rays on the Internet depicting a person embedded with shotgun pellets and marked as property of TheWolfFile.com, responded to inquiries Friday by revealing Wolf had pledged to request removal of the X-rays from a California political website.

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