Breaching a Child’s Confidentiality
Over at the NYT blog is an interesting story about a British writer (Julie Myerson) who has published a memoir about her son’s drug addiction (The Lost Child). Her 20-year old son has criticized the publication of the book. According to the Telegraph (UK):
The 20-year-old said: “What she has done has taken the very worst years of my life and cleverly blended it into a work of art, and that to me is obscene.
“I was only 17, I was a confused teenager, I was too young really to know who I was or what was happening.
“What she describes in her book are a series of incidents, it’s not who I am and I find it very sad that she feels the need to tar me with the ‘drug addict’ brush.
“She’s been writing about me since I was two, and, quite frankly, I’m not surprised by anything she does any more.
The NYT Blog asks:
Is it inappropriate and even harmful to expose the private lives of minor children, in particular? What privacy lines should be observed, if any, in writing about family members and others?
It contains responses from four people, Alison Gopnik (a psychology professor), David Matthews (author), Melanie Gideon (author0, and Michael Greenberg (author). For example, Author David Matthews writes:
Nothing is off limits as far as I’m concerned. Whether an author wants to risk fraying familial and social ties in the pursuit of the truth (as they see it) is a question left up to the writer.
Matthews’ response strikes me as rather extreme. In Britain, family members owe each other duties to keep private information confidential. In the US, the breach of confidentiality tort applies to doctors, lawyers, and others, but hasn’t been extended to friends and family. Perhaps it should be.
According to the Telegraph article, Myerson’s son said:
“I even consulted a lawyer to try to stop it, but was told there wasn’t much I could do, so I made her take out the part where she said I was selling drugs to my 12-year-old brother, which was one of her fantasies.
I’m surprised that he was advised the law didn’t protect him, since the book was published in Britain and he’d likely have a decent case under British precedent.
The Myerson case is increasingly becoming more common. Numerous bloggers are chronicling the lives of their children online, posting photos and a day-by-day account of their lives. What happens when these children grow up and resent having their entire childhood permanently recorded for the world to see?
Should family members owe each other a duty of confidentiality? Should parents write about a child’s life without that child’s consent?
Hat tip: PogoWasRight