Oh (Big) Brother

First Posted: 1/15/2009

We wish the following were an urban myth, but actually it is based on an Associated Press story out of Harrisburg, Pa.
It seems that Keith Emerich, a 44-year-old printing company employee, went to the doctor's office complaining of an irregular heartbeat. While filling out a routine yes-and-no checkbox before his exam, Emerich disclosed that it was routine for him to drink six to 10 beers a night - information that was then in his doctor's hand.
The doctor, familiar with a 1960s Pennsylvania law that requires doctors to report to law enforcement any impairments that a patient suffers that might affect his ability to safely drive, did just that. Had the doctor not done so, he risked liability had Emerich driven while intoxicated and caused a tragedy.
This is yet another example of good intentions running amok.
Emerich, it turns out, had a clean driving record except for a drunken-driving conviction when he was 21 - or 23 years ago. Also, the state had to make the leap that because Emerich drinks a six-pack a night, that he is a threat, where the evidence suggests that he didn't drink and drive, he drove home and drank.
Still, the case went to court, which restricted Emerich's driving privileges, and also required that he pass a test that measures blood-alcohol content before his car will start.
Emerich was forced to draw from his retirement to pay for a lawyer and the court costs, so the problems the idiotic law caused him are obvious. But the other problem is the chilling effect that the law might have in Pennsylvania - and six other states with similar statues - when a patient who enjoys a few too many in his living room fills out the medical history form before meeting with the physician.
The odds just got shorter that the attending doctor will be aware of his client's fondness for a cold one. And that could be a dangerous mix.

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