At ease, molesters: Tennessee’s religious right draws a bead on doctor-patient confidentiality for teens 

Conservative Christians have found a new cause célèbre in the state legislature: Denying teens the right to doctor-patient confidentiality.

Under their bill, which narrowly made it out of the House Judiciary Committee last week despite opposition from the Tennessee Medical Association and the state Health Department, any parent could demand to see their teen child's medical records under just about any circumstances.

We guess conservatives are trying to stop kids from keeping secrets from their parents (like the fact that they're sexually active). It doesn't matter to proponents that the bill imperils $6 million in federal family planning money, or that it might give child molesters access to their victims' records.

Also, as health-care professionals are pointing out, it'll probably stop some teens from seeking treatment for STDs or other embarrassing illnesses.

"Having access to confidential care is essential to getting young people into care in a timely manner," says Dr. Veronica Gunn, the Health Department's chief medical officer.

One committee hearing this month ended in partisan squabbling over the bill, which is championed by freshman Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport. House Republican leaders went to their Democratic counterparts later to complain about what they saw as rude treatment. Shipley snapped at Democrats at the next meeting.

At one point, he accused Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville, of "throwing up a smokescreen of ridiculous argument" for asking why Shipley wanted to give new rights to child molesters.

As Bobbie Patray, the glassy eyed high priestess of the state's Christian Right, watched with approval from the front row, Shipley assured the committee, "These children are not going to be put at risk at all." Democrats looked unconvinced.

The bill was amended to give physicians a little more discretion in deciding whether to surrender medical records to parents. The way it's now written, physicians can deny access if they suspect the patient has been or may be abused or neglected.

"What Tony Shipley showed with this bill is that ideology and partisanship is more important than serving the people of Tennessee," House Democratic caucus chair Mike Turner says.

Dean feelin' it on radio show
Mayor Karl Dean put on a happy face this week and showed his sensitive side to the touchy-feely listeners of Liberadio! Asked how we'll know if we've met his goal to become America's greenest city, the mayor replied: "We'll just wake up one morning and feel it somehow."

"I tell people I go to work every day happy. One hundred percent of the time I go to work happy. I come home 80 percent of the time happy. So I'm generally happy," he said later and proceeded to tout two things as fabulously wonderful: the new Nashville Opera rehearsal facility in Sylvan Park and Vanderbilt's health clinics at 100 Oaks Mall.

"Finish this line," Liberadio! host Mary Mancini told Dean. "I probably shouldn't be telling you this but..."

"Oh no, I'm not good at this," he said. " 'I probably shouldn't be telling you this but...' I've already told you so much. I've told you I'm happy. It's sunny. It's not raining. 'I probably shouldn't be telling you this but...' My goal is to lose 5 pounds by July 1. That's concrete. That's inside news. Do with it what you will. Be gentle. Be kind to me. That's all I ask."

He's aliiiiive!
Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons, whose campaign for governor has gone virtually unnoticed, found a way last week to snag a little publicity. He went negative, becoming the first mudslinger of the 2010 campaign.

In an unusual move with more than a year to go in the campaign, he put out a press release attacking Bill Haslam for saying Tennessee wouldn't be 42nd in education "if people cared."

The Gibbons headline? "Tennesseans Care Plenty About Education—Even if Haslam Doesn't Know It."

"Bill Haslam ought to get out of the country club set a little more often and talk to regular Tennesseans," Gibbons says. "What he would find is that folks with children in public schools care an awful lot about public education, and they are really fed up with a system that is in many cases failing them and their children, and that is certainly holding our state back from achieving its best potential."

Email jwoods@nashvillescene.com, or call 615-844-9445.

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