There are several places in life where strict confidentiality is required. Sometimes laws require people maintain secrecy, such as in medical settings.
Other times the rules of an organization require participants to maintain the privacy of others, such as priests that hear confessions or members of addiction recovery groups like Narcotics Anonymous or other 12-step programs.
But are you really required to keep potentially dangerous secrets? A 35-year-old man was faced with that question so he turned to the “Am I The A**hole” (AITA) subReddit for moral judgment.
Redditor Calm-Independent3513 asked:
“AITA for breaking confidentiality and making a surgeon lose his medical license?”
The Original Poster (OP) explained:
“Six years ago, my daughter died on the operating table during a complicated heart surgery. Her mother and I were told beforehand the operation was risky, and had a 50% chance of failing, but without it, she would have no other options.”
“We were obviously devastated, but accepted that it was not an improbable outcome. Our relationship wasn’t able to survive her passing, and we divorced a year later, partially due to substance abuse on my part and emotional infidelity on hers.”
“I started attending AA meetings about three years ago and after working with a sponsor, started doing much better about 6 months in. I began attending a different AA group after my sponsor moved, and one of the members at the new group looked extremely familiar.”
“I couldn’t quite place him, but after a couple meetings, he talked about being a surgeon. That’s when I realized he was one of the surgeons involved in my daughter’s surgery (I recognized his first name, looked through my daughter’s hospital records, and figured it out).”
“A few meetings later, when he expressed interest in being sponsored, I approached him after the meeting and offered to sponsor him or at least meet up and get to know each other (this isn’t unusual for AA). I didn’t tell him he had operated on my daughter.”
“He opened up to me while we met and confessed he had performed multiple surgeries while under the influence and in at least two surgeries where he was incapacitated, the patient died on the operating table.”
“I was livid.”
“I had no idea if he was drunk during my daughter’s surgery, and I’m not even sure if he knows. But from what I gathered, he was definitely drinking and operating for at least a few years before my daughter.”
“I tried to get more information about the patients, but he didn’t divulge. I managed to stay composed, telling him the same bs AA usually tells us (‘It’s a disease; it’s not your fault; you deserve forgiveness’).”
“I asked if he wanted to meet up some other time, and he agreed. The next time we met up, I secretly recorded him, his voice, and his face, admitting to operating while drunk.”
“Our state does not require two party consent, so this was not illegal. After a couple more individual meetings, during which time, I was acting as his sponsor, I received more information about the patients.”
“I spoke to a lawyer, then spoke to the hospital he worked at, presenting my recordings as evidence. The hospital began an investigation, and he was eventually fired and lost his medical license.”
“When I discussed this with another member of AA, he got extremely angry, told me I was breaking confidentiality, and alienated me from the other members, banning me from the meeting.”
“I believe I did the right thing, as this surgeon’s actions were putting other people, including potentially my daughter, in danger. But I also see how they feel as though their privacy was violated.”
“AITA for recording what an AA member said in confidence to their sponsor and making them lose their medical license?”
Before receiving final judgment, the OP returned to answer some questions for their fellow Redditors.
“Since so many people bring this up, I don’t care that I was banned from the group. AA, at least the meetings I attended, were toxic and failed to hold members responsible for their actions under the guise of ‘being understanding of someone who is sick’.”
“A couple other things that have been asked/brought up:”
“If AA works for you, great. I have no hard feelings against you. My personal experience with AA has not been positive overall.”
“I have maintained sobriety for nearly two years, over a year of which was not in AA.”
“The surgeon was still operating under the influence while I was his sponsor. It sounded like it was with less frequency, but ongoing nonetheless.”
“While we had not gotten to the ‘amends’ step, I did encourage him to turn himself in and speak to the families of those that had died on the operating table while he was under the influence.”
“I felt that because of the urgency of the situation where he was actively continuing to operate under the influence, I couldn’t wait until we got to that step.”
Redditors were asked to pronounce judgment by declaring:
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- NAH – No A**holes Here
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
Redditors sympathized with the OP, but gave a mixture of NTA and ESH responses.
“It’s tough due to the confidentiality of it and what that entails, but at the same time this guy had/has other peoples lives in his hands, and he’s choosing to put them at risk by drinking.”
“Ultimately I believe you did the right thing as it has prevented any future losses others may have incurred at his hands, and you already have a life thats been altered by them.”
“The intoxicated operating and killing trumps the break of confidentiality all day. NTA.” ~ Ipsylos
“I’m torn, because OP totally took advantage of his position as the surgeon’s sponsor to get the evidence. This can really shake people’s trust in the AA program and in their sponsors, which can affect people’s progress in getting and staying clean.”
“But like you said, this surgeon is responsible for people’s lives when they’re on the operating table, and even if he knows better and won’t operate while intoxicated anymore, I don’t know that he should be allowed to continue practicing. Patients should have a right to know if their surgeon is a responsible practitioner (which he wasn’t), and if no one will consent to letting him operate, his license isn’t going to be of any use to him.”
”This is basically kind of a cross between NAH (because OP’s actions are really relatable, and the surgeon is at least seeking help now) and ESH (because both of them have still done real harm).” ~ saucynoodlelover
“ESH – You agreed to a set of rules when you joined and broke them.”
“Should you have? Probably, but that doesn’t negate the fact you violated the confidentiality of the organization.”
“You did it to save lives, but what if someone else does it to out an LGBTQ person or let someone’s significant other know their partner is a recovering addict? Still going to be OK?”
“The surgeon, do I even need to say why they’re an a**hole?”
“AA and a lot of these programs suck because they’re run by people with no training and are frequently criticized as enabling and excuse making over recovering.”
“They also need rules about not KILLING PEOPLE. If your addiction is actively murdering people, there needs to be a solution other than keep the secret and support them on their journey.” ~ LakotaGrl
Redditors have 18 hours to pass judgment on the AITA scenarios presented to them. The jury is still out on this one, but it looks like most are willing to overlook the OP’s own indiscretion and declare him not the a**hole.