Bioethics News

Charlie Sheen’s reluctant bioethics script

The real lives of Hollywood stars often have just as much bioethical interest as their movies. This week Charlie Sheen, a popular actor in film and television with a colourful personal life, admitted that he was HIV positive on the Today show. He was diagnosed about four years ago and the disease is under control.

But this is not just another ho-hum personal tragedy. Apart from his self-destructive drug and alcohol abuse, compulsive promiscuity is part of Sheen’s public image and questions were immediately raised about whether he had infected one of his wives or many sex partners without informing them of his HIV status. Knowingly infecting a partner is a criminal offence in California. Prosecution is rare because a high bar has been set for the standard of proof but Sheen could be sued civilly for negligence, emotional distress or sexual battery.

The 50-year-old actor went public to protect himself against blackmailers who had extorted US$4 million from him over the past four years. “I release myself from this prison today,” he said.  “I have paid those people — not that many — but enough to where it has depleted the future. Enough to bring it into the millions.”

The bioethical take-away? The extreme importance of protecting medical record privacy.

According to the Washington Post, “opportunistic criminals are beginning to resort to similar schemes targeted at anyone who might potentially be hurt or embarrassed if others had access to information about their mental illness, nose job, abortion, or the fact that they’re going through bottles of Viagra”.

Now that doctors and health care institutions are digitising all of their medical records, hackers are having a field day.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.