ACLU Questions Surgery Videotape Requirement Imposed By Health Department
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Rhode Island ACLU has asked the state Department of Health to reconsider an order it issued against Rhode Island Hospital on November 2nd, requiring video and audiotaping of surgeries at the facility.
The requirement was part of a more comprehensive order directed at the Hospital after its fifth wrong-site surgery in three years. In a letter sent last week to DOH director David Gifford, the ACLU expressed support for the agency’s goal of protecting patients, but also raised concerns that implementation of this particular aspect of the order would “lead to a serious and disturbing invasion” of patients’ privacy in many instances.
Among the concerns raised in the RI ACLU’s letter:
- “It is difficult to think of many more intimate places to be videotaped than on an operating table. Although the order refers to ‘patient notice and consent documentation,’ none of the details for this consent is spelled out in the order, nor is it clear how patients will be notified. Just as importantly, we question how meaningful any consent will truly be in such a sensitive setting.”
- “The order does not address many other key issues, such as the standards that will govern who has access to the videotapes and under what circumstances, how long tapes will be kept, how the patient will be able to obtain copies, and what limits – if any – will be placed on use of the tapes.”
- “Since another part of the order requires an independent medical observer to be in the operating room for every surgery performed at the Hospital for the specific purpose of ensuring that proper procedures are followed … taping surgeries strikes us as redundant at best, and extraordinarily intrusive at worst.”
The ACLU letter noted that the DOH order was ambiguous as to whether all or just selected surgeries would need to be taped. Even if the latter, though, the ACLU pointed out that the hospital would be required to tape numerous surgeries of any particular doctor in order to randomly examine a few of his or her surgeries.
The ACLU raised similar concerns about audiotaping surgeries, arguing that “in an operating room – as in most other non-public settings – a recognition by hospital employees that they are being audiotaped can have a potentially chilling effect on their speech and conduct.” To the extent the audiotaping is designed to evaluate the group dynamics taking place among the staff in operating rooms, the ACLU argued that “knowledge among the staff that they are being audiotaped will inevitably change the dynamics among the group,” and that the change will not necessarily benefit either the patients or employees.
For all these reasons, the ACLU letter urged the Department to revise its November 2nd compliance order and eliminate the taping provisions. The Affiliate is awaiting a response.
UPDATE: The ACLU has since received a response from the Department of Health, and will be monitoring implementation of the requirement.
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The Latest in National Security
ACLU Acknowledges Improvements to DOJ Racial Profiling Policy, But Says Far More is Needed
ACLU Applauds Court For Allowing Case Challenging FBI’s Wrongful Prosecution of Chinese American Physics Professor To Move Forward
Shen v. Simpson
Chinese Immigrants Sue Florida Over Unconstitutional and Discriminatory Law Banning Them From Buying Land
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About National Security
The ACLU’s National Security Project is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.