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Are We Violating Health Privacy of Hollywood Stars?

By May 11, 2009 - 11:36pm
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I was just wondering if we have gone too far as a society by insisting on knowing about the health of "famous" names from Hollywood, favorite athletes, or other media personalities. Traditionally this practice has been limited to public officials who recognize the "right of the people" to know about their ability to run the country, public office, etc. But Farrah Faucet? What is going on with the ethical practices of those who work in hospital protecting the privacy of patients? Why are we feeding these behaviors?

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Virginia, I think this is a terrific question.

It's also a complicated one.

During Britney Spears' most recent health difficulties, I was astonished to see such things as photographs released of her in the ambulance. That's way over any "celebrity" boundary.

And there's clearly an appetite for such things, or magazines that sling accusations and private business around on their covers wouldn't sell. Heck, we all know that it doesn't even have to be true for it to sell. How many times in the checkout line do you see a headline that captures your eye -- usually about a celebrity, whether they have cheated on their significant other, gained tons of weight or been kidnapped by aliens -- that you know is probably not true? Daily, I think. And yet those magazines fly off the newstands.

It's like we don't need the stories to be true. People want to read them regardless. It is as though life is a soap opera. We know soap operas aren't true, but we are entertained by them nonetheless.

But when stars start opening their own lives up to us in order to create some kind of awareness or good out of it, I think the lines get blurry.

Michael J. Fox has been open about his Parkinson's disease. Farrah Fawcett actually participated in a two-hour "documentary" that will be shown on television this Friday night. Christina Applegate has breast cancer surgery and tells us the details; Lance Armstrong has testicular and then brain cancer and writes books about his struggle and survival. I could make a long list of the stars that willingly open up about their illnesses in interviews, on television, in magazines or in books.

And then we sort of believe that we deserve to know such things. Michael J. Landon had pancreatic cancer. Patrick Swayze is battling it now. When there are no updates from the family themselves, the tabloids make up updates for their headlines, forcing the stars to come out and say ah, no, I'm not dying YET.

Fame and celebrity are slippery things these days. There's no chart that says "acceptable" and "not acceptable" for what should and should not be public. If Oprah and Kirstie Alley gain weight and talk about it on her television show, as they did last week, is it then ok for other media outlets to talk about it? If star athletes are arrested for DWI (which is public record), do we then "deserve" to hear about their rehab?

I think this horse got out of the barn long long ago. And now with Twitter, I think it'll get even more out of control.

May 12, 2009 - 9:11am
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