Bioethics Blogs

Stinging Doctors: Recording Your Own Surgery

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Ethel Easter expressed outraged this week at what her health care team said about her during her surgery in Texas last year. She claims that before her operation she was flagged as a difficult patient and instead of talking to her doctors at that time, she hid a recording device in her hair. Listening to the recording after her operation, she heard the medical staff discussing her as a “handful” and making other disparaging comments.

This case comes after “D.B.” in 2013 accidentally left his cell phone in record mode during a procedure. The insulting comments made while he was sedated led to a $500,000 payment for medical malpractice and defamation.

While pundits and social media expressed outrage at what the medical staff said during these patients’ surgeries, where is the outrage over a patient running a sting operation on her health care providers? DB’s recording was an oversight: He forgot to turn off the machine while recording his post-operative instructions. But Easter purposely hid a device for recording. This is a form of lying by omission because she did not inform anyone, and a violation of the sanctity of the patient-provider relationship. Trust is the cornerstone of this relationship, which was violated by her clandestine activity. What trust is possible if patients are going to be secretly recording? Besides the ethical issues this raises, there are legal ones as well: In eleven states it is illegal to record a conversation unless both parties are aware and have given consent.

As a bioethicist and clinical ethicist for 15 years, I have heard my share of “gallows humor” about patients.

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.