Buried baby case: Doctor-patient privacy nixed if crime suspected

Buried baby case: Doctor-patient privacy nixed if crime suspected

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Ohio law provides an exception to confidentiality privileges between a doctor and a patient by requiring doctors to report criminal conduct to law enforcement. In the recent case of a Carlisle teenager who was charged with reckless homicide for causing the death of her baby and burying the remains in the backyard of her home, police were notified by a doctor’s office of a possible stillborn birth. FILE PHOTO

There are certain confidentiality privileges that protect people who share information, but there are exceptions to those privileges.

That privileged information can be between a lawyer and a client, a person and a minister, and a patient and a doctor. It can’t be divulged unless the client or patient consents. If violated, the professional could face legal action.

In the recent case of a Carlisle teenager who was charged with reckless homicide for causing the death of her baby and burying the remains in the backyard of her home, police were notified by a doctor’s office of a possible stillborn birth.

Ohio law places a duty on doctors and other medical professionals to report criminal behavior to law enforcement, said Tess Pollock, communications director for the State Medical Board of Ohio.

“Certainly in instances of a felony,” she said. “There are also additional circumstances that requires a physician to report felonious conduct.”

According to state law, “no person, knowing that a felony has been or is being committed, shall knowingly fail to report such information to law enforcement authorities.”

In addition, state law also requires disclosure of specific matters to be reported to law enforcement which includes deaths, gunshot or stab wounds, or other injuries resulting from an offense of violence. The law also has specific requirements for reporting burn injuries.

The felony reporting statute also protects those professionals from any liability or recrimination for a breach of privilege or confidence.

But those who fail to report criminal conduct to law enforcement as required may be subject to criminal prosecution.

There are also some circumstances that may sever the doctor-patient privilege such as the patient uses false statements to obtain drugs or illegal drug use; or situations that trigger other mandatory reporting to authorities for child abuse or neglect or long-term facility resident abuse or neglect.

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