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Serious Complications: Should Andy Rooney's Cause of Death Be Kept Secret?

Serious Complications: Should Andy Rooney's Cause of Death Be Kept Secret?

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One month after Andy Rooney died, CBS News posted a story on its website: "Murder or suicide: How did Jocelyn Earnest die?"

CBS posted a picture of Earnest and included details such as speculation that Earnest - married to a man - had been having an affair with a woman. The story said that she and her husband had been in serious financial trouble, and it quoted from her private diaries. It described how police at the crime scene "found a condom package lying by the bed" and "found a condom unwrapped in the trash can."

All of these details are included to answer the question in the headline. What was Jocelyn Earnest's cause of death?

I doubt if a single reader of that story thought for a second that the cause of death should be a secret. In fact, they probably eagerly anticipated the answer, as I did, as they became engrossed in the detective novel way the writer laid out the details of her death.

The answer is: she was killed by her husband.

But what if the answer had been: she was killed by a surgeon?

In that case, at least some people think the cause of death should be a secret. When Andy Rooney, a true national treasure in broadcast journalism, died in November, his cause of death was a mystery. The many reporters who wrote about his death were told only that it had been caused by "complications from minor surgery."  Even CBS News, where Andy Rooney worked for three decades and the same outlet that went into enormous detail reporting on Earnest's death, provided only "complications following minor surgery" as the cause.

Pat Mastors, a former broadcast journalist who has started her own health care product company, Pear Health, wrote a piece for Antidote in Rooney's voice, asking for someone to "tell the truth" about what happened to him in order to prevent similar complications from taking someone else's life. A version of her piece also appeared later on The Health Care Blog and on Kevin MD. The comments on the Health Care blog indicated that many people don't agree with Mastors (or me.)

One commenter wrote, "Conversations and pronouncements about causes of death need not all be identical. First of all, it is an intensely private affair for those close to the deceased, and whatever information passes (or doesn't) between medical professionals and those they treat and their survivors, is nobody else's business. Others outside that small group may have all the curiosity or suspicions they like, but I see no reason for causes of death to be advertised in detail (or not) unless and until the family approves."

Another wrote, "Those who were closest to Mr. Rooney, have made their wishes crystal clear:
"The Rooney family asks that their privacy be respected at this difficult time." Considering that one of his children holds an executive position at the NLM, I think they are fully informed and their decisions are their business."

And the award for the rudest anonymous comment goes to, "You couldn't find a cause of death because the family has chosen not to reveal it. Your contempt for their privacy is appalling."

Rooney loved getting letters and reading letters on camera. I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether the cause of his death should be kept secret, even as Joyce Earnest's death and so many others are explored in great detail.

When is a story important enough to warrant reporting on a cause of death? Do the deaths of famous people open an opportunity to raise public awareness about medical errors or other health threats? And, setting aside Rooney's fame, does the general public have a right to know what killed the person next door?

Share your thoughts in the comments below or send me a note at You also can follow me on Twitter @wheisel.

Related Posts:

Serious Complications: What Andy Rooney Might Say About His Death


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With the exception of your implying that a surgeon caused Rooney's death, I agree with you. I'd like to know what caused his death, if only to put to rest the notion that it was a medical error. Some complications are due to events or circumstances other than a surgeon's mistake. After all, Rooney was 92 years old.

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Lots of people loved Andy Rooney. I for one really want to know why he died after "minor surgery". Some article suggested that his problem might have been a toe nail fungus infection problem. A good guess then is that surgery resulted in sepsis.

Public and medical ignorance of the purpose of HIPAA is astonishing. The law, HIPAA protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs. More on this later.

My mom needed HIPAA. She had cancer. Her medical problems were leaked by a former employer preventing her from getting new health insurance.
The law is not intended to cover-up medical mistakes. HIPAA is not intended to obstruct research. But that is what it has become. And now HIPAA is a detriment to America's healthcare. Costs are way up because of administrative and legal rules. Big medicine, and big Pharma like the shroud of secrecy. lawyers do too. The law is clear as mud.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from HIPAA)

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA; Pub.L. 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936, enacted August 21, 1996) was enacted by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996. It was originally sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.). Title I of HIPAA protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs. Title II of HIPAA, known as the Administrative Simplification (AS) provisions, requires the establishment of national standards for electronic health care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health insurance plans, and employers.[1]

The Administration Simplification provisions also address the security and privacy of health data. The standards are meant to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation's health care system by encouraging the widespread use of electronic data interchange in the U.S. health care system.

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My speculation is that Rooney went in to have a stent placed in an artery and the doctor punctured the artery causing a heart attack and he died on the operating room table. Stent placement is consided minor surgery. The patient goes home the same day or the very next day.

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I think the excessively high level of respect that the medical profession has in this country is the most insane, irrational and absurd reality in this country. The medical profession, consistently credited with 100,000 deaths a year in this country for a variety of reasons that can all be lumped under the category of "incompetence," deserves far more contempt and disdain for their self-serving, greedy, pernicious ways, which amazingly is coupled by an expectation of honor and respect when history is replete for as far back as one wants to examine, of stupidity, carelessness, incompetence, murder by negligence, callousness, sloppiness and inattention -- completely disregarding and giving every benefit of the doubt regarding sinister motives such as we see in movies.

Both my parents were killed by the medical profession. One was murdered with chemotherapy and one was simply neglected when she, in her sleep, accidentally disconnected her oxygen supply. This occurred previously while I was with her and even with the alarm going off, no one moved to come correct the problem. I had to go speak to an attendant who was in earshot of the alarm, yet neither he nor anyone else moved until I said something. So, I was not surprised when they called me during the night saying, "she had taken a turn for the worse." I knew what had happened. The oxygen apparatus that was connected to her face was easily disconnected by her in her sleep. Of course there is no record of how long she remained with insufficient oxygen and they never acknowledged the problem or their neglect. She never regained consciousness and died within the day.

She went into the hospital with a respiratory allergy that had been a frequent problem and she was always released in a few days.

When one's parent dies, who wants to sue for neglect? The large number of malpractice cases should speak loudly about the numbers which are never filed because people don't wish to appear greedy and they know the medical profession will have the best attorneys, not looking to rectify a wrong, but to maintain a pretense that the hospital and staff had done their very best.

Again, I'm absolutely amazed that doctors' reputations far exceed used car salesmen. While their education certainly is more demanding, money buys an education, not character.

I'm sure there are good doctors. I'm also sure there are good used car salesmen.

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I had finally collapsed and was unable to function because my sleep was so fractured unable to remain asleep longer than 90-120 minutes but would immediately fall asleep again over and over the entire night and woke the next day so sleepy was unable to read the newspaper. No a single doctor suggested a sleep problem or ordered a sleep test for years and years. Finally a different primary care doctor mentioned a sleep test but as usual did not order the test as other past doctors per my medical records did not order the test, but at least my last doctor discussed the test so I could lobby to get the test eventually. It diagnosed severe obstructive sleep apnea yet the doctor who read the follow up titration study was incompetent and guessed at the type of machine and oxygen settings since no pressure was found I later learned when I had no improvement and was getting worse with a Bi-pap machine that failed to help. The second specialist stated the first doctor should have immediately repeated the test when it didn't find a pressure that would allow the usual CPAP machine to be set to open the collapsed airway. The test was repeated and it did not find any pressure either. No doctor was competent enough to refer me to an Ear, Nose & Throat specialist to find the cause. I had to change to my 6 th primary care doctor because all the previous were incompetent and did not know what the classic sighs of this illness was. The ENT specialist stated after he exam that only a tracheotomy permanently placed in my throat to open at night would solve my anatomy problems. He didn't keep or write a medical record and failed to say anything when I sent a confirmation letter because I have learned all my medical records have massive errors because I discovered not a single doctor was able to correctly write the symptoms I had been explaining all the years I suffered. The medical profession in the U.S is incompetent I have learned because doctors all have been taught in the medical schools the moral code of "thou shalt not speak ill of another doctor" so the mistakes just go on and on because the bad doctors do not pay the price of their mistakes and they are all covered up so damages are not paid out. I have lost all respect for doctors who do not turn in a doctor who make mistakes! Until this culture is changed people will continue to die. I am presently informing the California Med Board my present doctors cannot write correct medical records and bill Medicare for bad service! This pain management doctor has altered my medical records to remove his liability with no care about the patients health! Doctors make me so mad when they harm people and when they are caught as I caught my past doctor and reprimanded him he never apologized for almost killing me! I told him I would voice record my visits until he corrected all the errors and misinformation he had written to protect his butt from liability. This is all doctors care about is not to be found guilty of harming a patient so they do not have to pay damages. Kerry Pay

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Not too long before Andy Rooneys death, my mother was killed by surgery that a woman of her age shouldn't have twice. Hers was an artery clearing, and possibly a stent. Her first surgery went well and enabled her to walk again with minimal pain. Pre surgery she was headed down the path to needing a nursing home. So the first surgery made her feel like a million bucks. However, they talked her into a second surgery of the same type. to a younger person flags would be on the horizon. But to an 80+ woman who was previously apartment bound, this could be the golden key to traveling one last time. Because Medicare would still pay for it, she naturally went for it. There was no reason for a woman her age to have a second surgery. Before the first surgery she had us witness her DNR order. The second surgery. she died on the table. they revived her, and so began a miserable descent, which she had the DNR to avoid, until death. The hospital was a nightmare except for two individuals. So Seniors listen up, never get a second artery clearing procedure/surgery. Get the first one and LIVE IT UP, do everything you are safely physically able. Make it last. The second surgery is only for the bank balance of doctor and hospital. My mom is no longer living proof of that.

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my 85 yr old wife admitted for angina pain. Drs planning to do surgery inserted a device into her Aolrta known as a "baloon pump" A few hours later the device came out and excessive bleeding caused cardic arrest. The Code Blue squad managed to bring her back in 30 minutes. She sustained severe neurological damage which kept her bedridden for nine months when she passed away.. The baloon pump incident happened in the intensive care unit. The device had a history of problems and the instructions for it recommended that a technician be in attndence with the patients at all times when it is installed. The iontensive care was not very intense and I believe that I lost my wife due to neglect.

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Mr. Rooney died of septicemia from A colonoscopy Tearing his intestine. Surely this colonoscopy was suggested to him by his doctor.

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It is no ones business what caused mr,
. Rooney’s death, period.

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