Could the Privacy of Adam Lanza's Medical Records Be Waived?

Dec 27, 2013

A scene from the home of Adam Lanza provided in the state's attorney's report on the December 14, 2012 shootings in Newtown.
Credit State of Connecticut

One of the enduring questions in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting is whether Adam Lanza's mental health contributed to his decision to kill 20 children, six educators, his mother, and himself. But privacy laws have gotten in the way of answering it.

State laws allow for confidentiality to be waived, in some cases, by a person's next of kin.

Governor Dannel Malloy said that Lanza's medical history is protected by confidentiality laws. That raises a couple of questions:

Can that confidentiality be waived?

Has anybody at the state asked Lanza's father to waive confidentiality?

The first question is being researched by lawyers working for Malloy's Sandy Hook Advisory Commission. Here's a state report that talks about it, and here's a state law that references it.

According to a spokesman for Peter Lanza, Adam Lanza's father, the answer to the second question is no.

This is an issue that is gaining some momentum on Malloy's commission. Mental health professionals he appointed say they need more information about Adam Lanza's medical history if they are to do their jobs.

Hank Schwartz, the psychiatrist-in-chief at Hartford Hospital's Institute of Living, said, "It would seem to me that the governor's office, that the governor himself, having established this commission, would have an interest in our having as much information about Adam Lanza's mental state as we possibly can review. Having an interest in it, we should have the assistance of legal counsel to know that we have pursued every avenue we possibly can pursue to obtain any information that may be currently withheld from us on the grounds of confidentiality."

In response, Malloy said that federal privacy laws protect the disclosure of medical records. But the federal government said that's not the case when it comes to health records in the custody of state and local law enforcement. For those records, state laws are in control. And state laws allow for confidentiality to be waived, in some cases, by a person's next of kin.

As Connecticut State Police prepare to release their report into last year's massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, those who want to learn more about the mental health of Adam Lanza will be studying the report for answers. It's unclear if they'll find any.