Anita Chanko, a widow, was sitting down for some late night television one August night. What she saw was horrifying, and caused her to relive one of the worst days of her life. Anita’s husband, Mark Chanko, had passed away unexpectedly just 16 months earlier, after being hit by a sanitation truck in New York as he crossed the street. Little did Anita know, her husband’s death had been captured on video for a Dr. Oz reality television show, NY Med.
The New York Times reports that NY Med is a popular real-life medical series that takes place at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital. The show follows Dr. Mehmet Oz as he treats patients. Anita Chanko was familiar with the program, but had no idea that the film crew had actually filmed, and planned to air, her husband’s death. According to many medical groups, programs like NY Med that follow real-life medical trauma are designed to “exploit patients’ pain for public consumption.”
Anita Chanko felt that pain first-hand as she watched the show unfold. As a result, she heard her husband’s final words, “Does my wife know I’m here?” Mrs. Chanko says the episode forced her to relive that horrible day once again. Ultimately, the broadcasting of such an intimate moment in her husband’s life left her reeling with anger. The Tech Times says that Mrs. Chanko was physically repulsed by the lack of compassion by the reality show, and physically clenched her fists as she watched.
“She clenched her fists so tightly that ‘the palms of my hands almost looked like stigmata’ and her mouth got so dry that her tongue stuck to the roof ‘as if I had just eaten a whole jar of peanut butter.’”
Mrs. Chanko recounts what she saw on the publicly broadcast television show of her husband’s death.
“I saw my husband die before my eyes. I hear them saying his blood pressure is falling. I hear them getting out the paddles and then I hear them saying, ‘O.K., are you ready to pronounce him?’”
As if the viewing of such a tragic event wasn’t enough, Mrs. Chanko says that the doctor was wearing an audio device when he came into the room to tell the family that Mark Chanko had passed away. What is supposed to be a private and intimate moment between the family was broadcast for all to hear.
After entering the room where the family was waiting for word on Mark, you can hear Dr. Schubl say, “I did everything I possibly could. Unfortunately, he did not survive. I am sorry.”
The Chanko family says that no one had given NY Med permission to film Mr. Chanko’s death, and they were never told any portion of his death would be broadcast. Instead of asking for consent, ABC simply blurred Mr. Chanko’s face. When Dr. Schuble entered the room to tell the family of Mr. Chanko’s death, the family was never shown and their reaction was no included in the programming.
However, Anita Chanko says that is not enough. She says that due to the nature of the accident and her husband’s voice being used in the program, it was very apparent the injured man was Mark Chanko. Anita says that following the episode, a woman who had formerly worked as the family’s pet-sitter, called to ask if she had seen the show having recognized Mark from the program.
Following the family’s upset, ABC has pulled the scene from future broadcasts, but it still remains on the DVD version of the program, but admitted to no wrong-doing stating that they did not require consent from the family to air the death as Mr. Chanko’s face was blurred. However, Mrs. Chanko was not pleased with that response. Therefore, she filed a $5 million lawsuit against ABC and Dr. Schuble for violation of patient’s rights and the family’s privacy. Sadly for Mrs. Chanko, the case was dismissed after ABC’s lawyer argued the law “only prohibits medical professionals from sharing information about their patients after treatment. Since the video was shot while Chanko was being treated, the lawyer said the footage was legal.”
The courts agreed with ABC, and went so far as to say the broadcast death “was not so extreme and outrageous as to support a claim for intentional infliction of emotion distress,” nor did a breach of the duty not to disclose personal information about the patient take place “since no such information” was disclosed.
However, the state health department did not agree. The health department sent a letter to New York-Presbyterian, noting that the department requires the hospital to explicitly ask for the patient’s consent before photographing, filming or audio recording. Mr. Chanko would have been in no state to give that permission.
Anita Chanko plans to appeal the case in court, and many healthcare privacy advocates agree with her. Joy Pritts, former chief privacy officer at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, says it’s “crazy.”
“Taken to its logical conclusion, what they’re saying is you can invite anyone in, and unless the patient objects at that very moment, there’s no violation of the patient’s privacy. That’s crazy!”
What do you think of the reality show broadcasting Mark Chanko’s death without his family’s consent? Should the Chanko family be compensated in court for the suffering the episode has caused them?