The Patient / Yoani Sanchez #Cuba

The Conversation. Sculpture donated to Havana by Vittorio Perrotta.

I turn on the TV and see a woman giving birth in front of the camera at some hospital in the interior of the country. The voice of a spokeswoman explains the birth figures for 2012, while I wonder if they asked the woman’s permission to film her during childbirth. The most probably answer is no. Ten minutes later a friend comes by and gives me an article where Alan Gross’s attorney protests because the Cuban government has released the medical history of his client. The subject reminds me of that scene where a hidden camera in a hospital captured Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s mother talking with a doctor, not knowing she was being recorded. The footage was broadcast in prime time to millions of viewers to see, clearly without her authorization, the suffering of a woman who was about to lose her son.

But the saga doesn’t end there. Last September the director of a polyclinic explained the symptoms of a dissident who fell ill while on a hunger strike. All the details were relayed without the least shame about violating the privacy of a patient and also violating the Hippocratic oath when it says, “I will remain silent about everything that, in my profession or out of it, I hear or see in the lives of men.” I myself, resolved more than three years ago never to step foot in a doctor’s office again, after the frightened doctor who treated me was forced to testify in front of an official lens. I decided – fully considering the risk – to take charge of my health and safeguard, in this way, my privacy. Still today, every time I think about a hospital visit, it’s as if I see myself on a stage with lights, cameras… and a vast public looking at my insides, my guts.

Now, the same media officials who have used intrusion into medical records as an ideological tool, defend the secrecy over Hugo Chavez’s state of health. On TV where we have seen attacks on the privacy of so many patients, they now charge that those who demand information about the Venezuelan president are being morbid. They forget that they are the ones who have accustomed their audience to snooping in hospital records, as if it were ethically acceptable. And all these little people with their privacy violated by the national press? Don’t they also deserve respect? And all these physicians and medical institutions that failed to hold to their most sacred principles? Will they be penalized now that medical indiscretion is no longer politically correct?

Yoani Sánchez

10 January 2013