Should Lou Gehrig’s Medical Records Be Released?
Some lawmakers in Minnesota are trying to force the release of Lou Gehrig’s medical records. They say the records might give some insight as to whether the famous baseball player died of the disease named after him, or if repetitive head trauma played some kind of role.
The holders of the records, the Mayo Clinic, are resisting. They are skeptical that the records by themselves would prove anything.
One of the leading proponents for the release of Gehrig’s records, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, admits the records “probably won’t show anything.” However, the Minneapolis Democrat and self-proclaimed baseball fanatic maintains “in case they might it’s ridiculous not to look at them.”
Lou Gehrig’s disease is the common name for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS. The disease got its popular name after Gehrig died in 1941, apparently from ALS.
Kahn became interested in Gehrig’s records after stumbling across a widely discussed 2010 study that connected repetitive brain trauma in athletes and ALS. Gehrig suffered numerous concussions during his career, and had a history in football at Columbia University. Kahn thinks that looking at Gehrig’s records in the context of all the recent research on brain trauma might provide some extra insight into the disease.
Forcing the release of the records requires the change of a state law, so that health records of patients who have been dead for more than 50 years can be released, so long as the descendants do not object, and the patient never signed a will or health care directive stating otherwise. Gehrig has no living descendants to object.
Currently, the clinic won’t discuss a patient without consent from the individual or a legally authorized figure, citing privacy concerns. The spokesperson for the Mayo Clinic told Steve Karnowski from SFGate, “Mayo Clinic values the privacy of our patients,” and “patient medical records should remain private even after the patient is deceased.”
The medical community is siding with the Mayo Clinic, suggesting the records would not give any new information. Even the doctor who created the 2010 study that inspired Kahn disagrees with trying to force the release of records.
Dr. Ann McKee is the chief neurologist for the National VA Brain Bank, and co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. She stated “I don’t think the medical records would be helpful. It really requires looking at the tissue, and [Gehrig] was cremated, so it’s not possible.”
Gehrig’s estate is also resisting the release of his records, but it is possible Gehrig himself might have been more likely to side with Kahn and the other lawmakers. Gehrig was a strong supporter of ALS research, and took part in a variety of tests before his death. His work for ALS research is a large part of why the disease gets called Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Kahn isn’t new to pushing legislation unlikely to pass the vote. She previously has proposed to lower the voting age to 12, and to make the Minnesota Twins publicly owned. This legislation is more probable than either of those endeavors, but the question remains whether the release of the records would really contribute anything to ALS research or not.