The Doctor-CIA-Patient privilege?

Can  the federal government prevent you from telling your doctor what’s bothering you?  Apparently they think they can, even if you are not a federal employee.

I was reading a new court opinion (pdf) where the government invoked “state secrets” as a defense.  Needless to say, with all the underlying facts not discussed, I have no real idea what the original complaint was about except that it was filed by the wife and minor children of a former CIA covert operative, but in reading the opinion, I came across this:

Plaintiff Jane Doe is the wife of a former employee of the CIA who remains in covert status. The other three plaintiffs are the minor children of Jane Doe and her husband. The Complaint alleges that Jane Doe’s husband “was summarily separated from his CIA employment,” for a reason that is redacted as classified, and “terminated immediately for unspecified reasons.” Plaintiffs departed for Foreign Country A, where they currently reside because the CIA has “refused to provide any assistance, medical or otherwise.”

The Complaint alleges that Plaintiffs are unable to leave Foreign Country A and that Plaintiff Jane Doe is a virtual prisoner in her home. She is “constantly fearful of eventual detection,” for a reason that is redacted as classified. Although Plaintiff Jane Doe allegedly receives medical treatment and psychological counseling, she claims that the CIA has “demanded that she not disclose the basis for her apprehension to her medical professionals, while simultaneously refusing to provide her alternative treatment.”

Plaintiff Jane Doe alleges that she “suffers severe emotional distress producing physical symptoms from fear,” and “lives in constant fear;” the reason for her alleged fear is redacted as classified.

A footnote says, “The plaintiffs inform us that “certain relief for Jane Doe has been obtained through non-judicial means. Thus, not all of her legal claims remain pending.”

But how can the government insist that a patient not confide in a doctor? Even if there are security concerns, do family members of covert operatives waive their right to appropriate medical care and treatment — including mental health treatment, if needed? If the CIA was so concerned about security, could they not have provided care from a qualified professional who had been read into the program or given adequate security clearance?

Something just doesn’t seem right about all this, but since the court’s opinion was focused on the state secrets issue, I didn’t come away with any sense of whether the government really could interfere with a patient’s communications to their doctor as part of seeking treatment.  Does anyone know the law on this issue?

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