Ask Amy: Sister shared brother's medical information

  • Article by: AMY DICKINSON
  • July 29, 2013 - 3:21 PM

Dear Amy: My brother recently was hospitalized for a serious mental health issue.

My sister is an avid social media user. She was all over her accounts, sharing the details. She “tagged” his name in posts.

I felt she violated his privacy and told her so. She says she is bringing attention to an important health issue. My feeling is that should be my brother’s choice, and he is in no shape to make one. We’re at an impasse.


Amy says: This is not debatable. Your sister is violating your brother’s privacy and may well be damaging his recovery by betraying him.

Tagging him on posts invites others (including strangers) to weigh in, and some may do so in ways that are not supportive or helpful and may, in fact, compromise his recovery now or reputation later.

Furthermore, it doesn’t sound as if your brother is in a position to clarify, educate or even make a statement on his own behalf.

Most readers are aware of the HIPAA statute, which protects confidential medical information. I contacted Abner Weintraub, a HIPAA expert and consultant in Orlando, Fla. He said: “One of the primary purposes of HIPAA is to protect confidential medical data. But HIPAA only applies to a narrow category, and unless the person disclosing this medical information is a medical provider or agency regulated by HIPAA, the statute does not apply. Private citizens are not regulated by this law.”

Common decency, however, should regulate our behavior. This crosses the line.

Is marriage over?

Dear Amy: Fifteen years ago my wife fell in love with a married man.

We went to see a marriage counselor, but it didn’t make any difference. Our kids were quite young, and I decided to stay in the marriage. My kids were involved in religious activities and sports teams, which they would’ve missed out on because my wife isn’t religious or into sports.

I don’t believe my wife is in love with the other man anymore, but she’s not in love with me, either. She doesn’t really like doing anything with me (such as going to a movie or out to dinner, etc.), and if we do go out with one of the kids, she treats me like a third wheel.

Our youngest daughter recently graduated from high school, and I’m considering a divorce. I love my wife but don’t want to live the rest of my life like this. I know I’m going to have to talk to my kids about the divorce, but what would do you recommend I tell them — other than I love them very much?


Amy says: Now that your youngest has graduated from high school, you can expect the dynamic with your wife to change, for better or worse. Before giving up on your marriage, however, I hope you will try counseling again.

Do not discuss divorce with your children unless you are definite about it and have chosen to separate. Your children have noticed the dynamic between their parents through time. They will see you have been marginalized over the years (and they have occasionally pushed you to the margins, too).

You needn’t have martyred yourself for your children’s activities — don’t present yourself as a victim. All you need to say is, “Your mother and I have not been happy together for a long time. We love you very much, but our own relationship isn’t working out.”


Send questions via e-mail to Amy Dickinson at

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