I continue to grind my teeth while listening to talking heads spout their theories about Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who seemingly intentionally crashed his plane into the Alps, killing all onboard. Not satisfied with rank speculation about his mental health, talking heads also share their ignorance about whether German law permits German doctors to disclose any concerns to a patient’s employer.
Today, however, there’s a breath of fresh – and reassuring – air. John Edwards, the Privacy Commissioner of New Zealand, wrote a plain language post to explain to New Zealanders what the law is in their country concerning disclosure of otherwise-confidential medical information. As Commissioner Edwards writes:
In the aftermath of any tragedy it will quickly become obvious that some people had information which, if they had acted on, or shared, or joined up with other information, might have allowed the tragedy to have been averted. There will be many reasons why those dots were not connected, but in lieu of cool headed analysis and investigation, the default is to blame laws that might have got in the way. Cue Fox News, Bloomberg, and no doubt countless others’ immediate calls for a revision of Germany’s privacy laws, reported as ”the strictest in the world”.
All this despite the fact that the Time article itself links to a 1999 decision of a Frankfurt court which ruled that a doctor was legally obliged to reveal “confidential” patient information in circumstances which presented a real risk to the safety of others.
Commissioner Edwards then goes on to explain the relevant laws in New Zealand in very simple terms.
It’s a wonderful example of plain writing for the masses and we need more of that.