COMMENTARY

Is It Ethical to Tweet From Someone's Deathbed?

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD

Disclosures

October 01, 2013

Privacy in the Era of Social Media

We may wonder, is nothing private anymore? Do we have any intimate or personal moments? In the era of social media, Twitter, Facebook, and all the rest, there is not much privacy left. Families may decide that it is comforting to talk about this or they may decide that relatives who cannot be there can be part of the process of support and comfort for a dying loved one by using social media. I can imagine circumstances and situations when it may make sense for a particular family. It is certainly not for everyone, but it may make sense for some.

The crucial thing to keep in mind is to discuss this before the situation arises. This may be something to bring up with your patients now.

We talk about living wills, but few of us have ever asked a patient, "Are you alright if someone tweets about you? Are you alright if someone videotapes this? Do you want more privacy than maybe your son-in-law or immediate family might want to give you?" If we are willing to get into this discussion, patients can make their wishes known before we get to the end of life. And at the end of life, I think we need to ask patients to consent again, if possible, just to make sure that they are still fine with how their personal space and the most intimate of moments is being handled, whether or not it is good for the family or whether third parties agree. It is the individual's right to decide whether they want others to know about what is happening to them.

I am Art Caplan from NYU. Thanks for watching.

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