Editorial for October 11: A patient’s right to privacy

Our government has declared its intention to establish a mandatory national cancer registry. The Cayman Islands Cancer Society supports the idea.

We do not.

Many large nations have mandatory cancer registries, which contain information on each cancer diagnosis, and intimate details on patients such as demographics, treatments and case histories.

The Cayman Islands currently has a voluntary cancer registry, which was started in 2010 and has data on about 110 individuals.

Proponents of mandatory registries argue that voluntary cancer registries are inadequate for developing systematic approaches to fighting the disease, for the simple reason that, given the option, many people choose not to share highly personal medical details.

Cancer Society operations manager Jennifer Weber said people resist being included in the registry because they fear the release of the names and details to doctors, government, insurance companies and public health providers.

“People don’t understand about confidentiality,” Ms Weber said. “The Cancer Society doesn’t provide personal information to anyone; we don’t give it to insurance companies.”

With all due respect to Ms Weber, we believe people’s fears about their confidentiality being compromised are grounded in an understanding of – well, how things work around here.

Governments in general have nearly zero credibility when it comes to protecting people’s privacy, and our government in particular has even less. The most well-trafficked highway in Cayman is the proverbial marl road.

There is a reason why Cayman Crime Stoppers’ anonymous tip line operates out of Miami, and it’s not because of discounts on long-distance calls.

Premier Alden McLaughlin says mandatory cancer registry legislation is being drafted and will be complete within the budget year. We haven’t seen the legislation, of course, but we already have questions about how it would ensure that privacy is safeguarded and penalties are enforced.

We are skeptical that a mandatory registry would assist efforts to prevent and treat cancer here in Cayman, given, for example, the small size of the country, the transient nature of the population and the proclivity of people to seek treatment for serious diseases like cancer in the United States.

Let’s pretend for a moment that we could identify an apparent source of carcinogenic and otherwise noxious pollutants in the local environment. Imagine that it sprawls in the midst of Grand Cayman’s tourism district next to its largest and most dynamic development. Imagine that it towers 80 feet in the sky and is the first Caymanian thing cruise ship passengers can spot from their positions at sea. Imagine that a private party with vast resources and a proven track record of success has come forward with a sensible plan to remove the blight from the landscape.

If the country’s lawmakers cannot muster the political will to take care of a problem as painfully obvious – and potentially toxic – as the George Town landfill, it is impossible to believe they could respond effectively to any issues which might be identified through analysis of a mandatory cancer registry.

The emotional and visceral realities of an individual’s cancer diagnosis are too sensitive to be shared with local public authorities, no matter the honeyed words they whisper. The breach of the confidential relationship between an individual patient and doctor is not worth the promised benefits to society.

Setting up a mandatory cancer registry in Cayman is a bad idea. The proposed legislation to enable this government intrusion need never see the light of day.