Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Ashcroft on Warpath

Remember the decision to ban the so-called partial birth abortion? Remember that several physicians and organizations challenged the constitutionality of the ban? The government has now tried to subpoena the medical records of one of these physicians, Dr. Channing Hammond.

The ruling is the first in a series of subpoenas by the U.S. Justice Department seeking the medical records of patients from seven physicians and at least five hospitals, Crain's sister publication Modern Healthcare has learned. Besides Northwestern, Mr. Ashcroft is seeking patient records from University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers in Ann Arbor; Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp.; Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medical Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital both of which are part of the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System; and an unidentified San Francisco-area hospital.

The court didn't like this interference with the patients' privacy:

In a 16-page decision, U.S. Chief District Judge Charles Kocoras denied the government's request to obtain patient medical records from Northwestern, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and Illinois' medical privacy law.

but did speculate about the reasons for the government's subpoenas:

In his decision, Judge Kocoras said the records "appear to have been sought for the purpose of testing the assertions in Dr. Hammond's declarations. At best, the government is seeking possible impeachment material."

This was discussed on TAPPED, but the topic deserves repetition. It seems to me that Dr. Hammond's patients have nothing to do with his challenge, and their medical records should not be interfered with. But then I'm not a lawyer, just a very minor goddess.