Editorial: Gehrig's records should stay sealed
Did Lou Gehrig really die from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disease that now bears the Yankee legend's name? Or were his sudden physical decline and death in 1941 the long-term consequences of multiple concussions he suffered playing college football and professional baseball?
We'd like to know the truth, and it's possible that it could be found in Gehrig's medical records at Mayo Clinic, where he was diagnosed with ALS.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a DFLer from Minneapolis, wants to know the truth, too. She's introduced a bill that would allow hospitals to release the medical records of people who've been dead for at least 50 years, didn't leave any directives to safeguard their records and have no relatives who object to their release.
If mere curiousity were Kahn's only motivation, we'd dismiss her bill as a waste of the Legislature's time. But at a time when we're becoming increasingly aware of the risks associated with sports-related concussions, there could be some value in knowing the truth about Gehrig. If he died due to concussions, rather than ALS, then a very important name could be employed in the effort to make sports safer for young athletes. One might even speculate that Gehrig himself would want to help protect those who play football, baseball, hockey and other contact sports.
But speculation is hardly a basis to overthrow the principles of medical privacy, and one fact overrides all others in this discussion: Gehrig didn't consent to have his medical records opened to the public. It's quite possible — probable, even — that he was never asked the question and had no reason to believe his records would be of interest to future generations. Furthermore, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Gehrig's medical file contains information that, although irrelevant to his death, might somehow taint his legacy.
We oppose Kahn's bill and believe Gehrig's records should remain forever sealed. That's the appropriate decision regarding an athlete who, despite playing on the largest sporting stage in the world, was a deeply private, introspective man.
As for the possible loss of Gehrig's name in the fight against sports concussions, surely there are plenty of still-living athletes who can help spread the word.