E.H. Duncan Donovan complained in his article (Editorial Pages, March 13), “Did Anyone Really Gain From Disclosures About Liberace?” about the public attention attracted by the revelation that the cause of death on entertainer Liberace’s death certificate was falsified.
Donovan is disturbed that the Riverside coroner made a public announcement about the true cause of death, acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Donovan proposes a “new system of reporting deaths.”
He refers to the legislation in California that makes the result of tests for HIV antibody (not AIDS, which is, by law, a reportable disease) confidential. In the initial hysteria by gay rights groups, which led to the legislation, not even the doctor who ordered such a test would have been allowed to know the result. Fortunately, cooler heads are prevailing now and we may finally escape from the political constraints placed on the treatment of this public health problem by shortsighted ideologues like Donovan. Among other things, Donovan ignores the fact that placing a false cause of death on the death certificate is illegal.
Far from advocating civil liberties for everyone, Donovan wishes to restrict the right of all the population to know the incidence of communicable diseases such as AIDS so as to protect the right to privacy of certain groups.
Liberace sought his fame energetically throughout his life. His sexual preferences were discussed when a “palimony suit” was filed against him a few years ago by a male companion. We are not talking about the “middle-class family” in Banning here.
If the publication of such things as arrests for drunk driving can have a beneficial effect on the public health and safety, then the middle-class family may have to pay a price too.
The common element in these examples is the knowledge that no one has to seek fame or to drive drunk. If such behavior brings with it public attention, that is the price we pay for freedom and democracy.
If I were to see my name in the papers for drunk driving, my career might be ruined. Knowing the price, I take more care. “Rich and Famous” rarely become so involuntarily. Donovan, by calling the public attention a “circus” demeans the people he should be protecting. Politics, not civil liberties, is Donovan’s subject.
MICHAEL T. KENNEDY MD
Orange County Medical Assn.