posted by Thom Holwerda on Mon 19th Jan 2009 15:25 UTC
IconSpeculation about Steve Jobs' health situation has been a hot topic for a while now, and Bloomberg is jumping on the bandwagon as well - but you have to wonder if there's a limit as to how far journalists should go in order to gain insight into Jobs' health. While his position as CEO of a large publicly traded company puts him on a pedestal, I do believe there are limits to the hight of this pedestal. Bloomberg grossly crossed the line in my book, and Jobs seems to agree with me. "Why don't you guys leave me alone?"

Bloomberg wrote an article January 16 this year, in which they state that "Steve Jobs is considering a liver transplant as a result of complications after treatment for pancreatic cancer in 2004, according to people who are monitoring his illness." This sounds rather serious, but anyone who has been on the internet for longer than, say, three minutes will immediately have a little red flag going up when they read "according to people [etc]".

The little red flag is completely justified in this case, as the "people" amount to Steven Brower, professor and chairman of surgery at the Mercer University School of Medicine in Savannah, Georgia. While I'm sure that Mr Brower is very competent at what he does, he has absolutely no relation to Jobs whatsoever. He has not treated Jobs, he has not seen any medical records, no nothing.

It is to be noted, however, that Bloomberg may have very well taken Brower's remarks out of context - I can imagine Brower saying something along the lines of "it is sometimes necessary for pancreatic cancer survivors to undergo a liver transplant", and Bloomberg turning that into the absolute statement that appeared in the final article. As you read further down the article, it appears that this is actually what happened: "One option doctors have in these cases is to perform a liver transplant," Brower said, "It's one of the tumors for which transplantation can be considered. It's rare, but it's sometimes done."

When Bloomberg confronted Steve Jobs with these "findings" over the phone, Jobs replied in a direct tone and understandable manner: "Why don't you guys leave me alone -- why is this important?" Jobs said. Apple also declined to comment any further.

While I agree with Adam that the interest in Steve Jobs' health is justified, with it being a direct consequence of Jobs' and Apple's own decisions and actions, I do believe that journalists should have certain ethics when it comes to these matters. I think that contacting a random doctor, who has not treated Jobs in any way, and ask him to make comments on Jobs' possible health situation, and then grossly exaggerating these doctor's findings for nothing but hits and clicks is far beyond my personal boundaries of what's ethically acceptable and what isn't. Pedestal or not.

I'm sure there are journalists out there thinking about taking this even a step further, by directly contacting the doctors who are treating Jobs. This is something that I find even more deplorable, because it puts doctors in the awkward position of having to invoke doctor-patient confidentiality. I personally have minor experience with this, as I studied "real-life" patients when I studied Psychology at University. I've read patient files of some pretty seriously ill people, some of which easily kept me awake at night. When friends and family asked me about what I was studying, I couldn't tell them anything. While this is hardly comparable to 'real' doctors' experiences, I do know what it's like when people push you to reveal information you're really not supposed to give out. It's very unpleasant.

I hope our colleagues at other websites do not stoop this low, but I'm afraid that there's little stopping them.

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