Rich Karlgaard at Fortune has a very thoughtful discussion over whether Steve Job's health is a private matter. If he is seriously ill, should he disclose the information because of the fact that people's pension funds and livelihoods are dependent upon him? Or is it callous to suggest that money trumps the right to privacy?
This is an extraordinarily difficult issue, about which I have many doubts. But in the end I have to say that in the modern age of health insurance, the right to privacy is a fallacy.The only benefit I can see for most people in keeping their illness a secret is in order to get medical coverage, in which case their insurance will be canceled if the insurer finds out you lied in your application.
Yes, certain illnesses, such as AIDS, carry a social stigma, and there is a benefit to the victims keeping the information to themselves. But the question with Mr. Jobs is whether his cancer has returned.
I lost my sister to cancer two years ago, and it was the most traumatic experience of my life. Thankfully, she had medical insurance. There was no secret about her illness, nor any thought of keeping the information from anyone who loved her, worked with her or in any way depended on her. What would she have gained? What would we have gained?
To those who say it's callous to insist that financial concerns take precedent, I have to ask, what does Mr. Jobs gain from keeping such a secret – assuming he's ill – besides the temporary financial health of his company?
I knew a powerful CEO who once kept the news of his cancer private simply because he was afraid valuable employees would bail out, worried that the company would fail. Of course, the company would have failed if he had died as well, but no one would have had the opportunity to protect their own interests -- or to show their loyalty to the CEO by standing by him.
There is a public good in such a public figure as Steve Jobs disclosing whether he is seriously ill. I fail to see the private good to him by keeping it a secret.