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Protecting patients’ privacy while holding homicide rates down

The front-page article “A Mass. hedge in FBI gun checks: State law prevents sharing of records on mental health” (Jan. 28) adds to the stigmatization of people with mental illness that has been on the rise since the Newtown tragedy. The underlying premise is that mentally ill people are responsible for America’s exceptionally high rates of gun homicide as compared with other developed countries.

While Massachusetts has refused to violate the confidentiality and privacy rights of people with mental illness by adding their names to a federal database, it should be noted that the Commonwealth ranks 50th in gun homicide rates of all the states and the District of Columbia (only Hawaii ranks lower).

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These data should make it clear that there is no justification, in the name of reducing gun violence in Massachusetts, for violating the privacy rights of those receiving mental health services. Massachusetts should not follow the example of other states. Rather, other states may wish to adopt our approach and enact strict gun-control laws while providing services to their residents with mental illness in a confidential manner.

Leonard H. Glantz


The writer is professor of health law, bioethics, and human rights at Boston
University School of Public Health.

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