“I Saw My Husband Die”: When a Patient’s Death is Broadcast Without Permission

NYMedBy Elaine Magliaro

Imagine that it’s four o’clock in the morning and you can’t sleep…so you settle down on your couch to watch television. You’re elderly and a big fan of NY MED, “the popular real-life medical series set at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, starring Dr. Mehmet Oz.” You flip on the DVR and the previous night’s ABCNewsepisode of that show appears on your television screen…and you witness the death of your husband. That’s exactly what happened to Anita Chanko, 75, on an August night in 2012.

Chanko remembered the program that she watched that August night more than two years ago: “It starts off, there’s a woman with stomach cancer and her family, and then there’s somebody with a problem with their baby, I think it was a heart. And then I see the doctor that treated my husband.”

Chanko’s husband Mark had died sixteen months earlier—after he had been struck by a sanitation truck while crossing a street not far from his home. Doctors and nurses at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center reportedly “tried in vain to save his life.”

Chanko stared at the television screen and “saw the chief surgery resident Sebastian Schubl, responding to an emergency in which a man is hit by a vehicle.”

Charles Ornstein (ProPublica):

“And then I see, even with the blurred picture, you could tell it was him,” she said. “You could hear his speech pattern. I hear my husband say, ‘Does my wife know I’m here?’.”

There was no doubt in her mind: The blurred-out man moaning in pain was her husband of almost 46 years, the Korean War veteran she met in a support group for parents without partners.

“I hear them saying his blood pressure is falling. I hear them getting out the paddles and then I hear them saying, ‘OK, are you ready to pronounce him?’.”

She  clenched her fists so tightly that “the palms of my hands almost looked like stigmata” and her mouth got so dry that her tongue stuck to the roof “as if I had just eaten a whole jar of peanut butter.”

“I saw my husband die before my eyes.”


Anita Chanko witnessed the death of her husband…and it came as a shock–especially because no one in her family “had given NY Med permission to film Mr. Chanko’s treatment at the hospital or to broadcast the moments leading up to his death.”

Ornstein said that the intimate details of anyone’s death “are supposed to be shared only with a patient and whoever they designate, under a federal law known as Hipaa.” He noted that since the law was passed eighteen years ago, hospitals and doctors “have put in place an ever-expanding list of rules meant to protect patient privacy. Hospitals warn staff members not to discuss patients’ conditions on elevators. Drug stores ask customers to stand back so they don’t overhear information about others’ prescriptions.” He added that despite all the growing sensitivity, medical reality shows like NY Med “have proliferated, piggybacking off popular fictional counterparts like ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and House.”

Ornstein continued by saying that groups like the American Medical Association and medical ethicists are concerned that television shows like these “exploit patients’ pain for public consumption, but their makers argue that they educate viewers and inspire people to choose careers in medicine.”

Terence Young, the executive producer of NY Med, wrote in an email: “We have heard many stories of people who were inspired to go to medical school, to become nurses or paramedics, or to head into particular specialties like trauma or transplant surgery after watching our show.” According to Ornstein, Young declined to discuss Mr. Chanko’s case or to be interviewed for the ProPublica article.

Ornstein said that NewYork-Presbyterian—as well as some other hospitals—“have seized upon such shows as a way to showcase themselves, vying to allow TV crews to film their staff and patients — even emergency-room patients sometimes in no condition to give permission.” He noted that when the first season of NY Med was broadcast in 2012, Myrna Manners, who was the hospital’s vice president of public affairs at the time, told PR Week, “You can’t buy this kind of publicity, an eight-part series on a major broadcast network.”

The most troubling aspect of the Chanko story is that that episode of NY Med “added a coda of anger to more than a year of grief.” Ornstein wrote that the Chanko’s daughter Pamela said that “seeing the specifics of her father’s injuries and death on TV sent her spiraling back into clinical depression.” Pamela Chanko added, “It just sent me straight back to square one.”

It was reported that Kenneth Chanko, Mark Chanko’s son, had filed complaints “with the hospital, the New York State Department of Health, ABC, a hospital accrediting group, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ civil rights office.” In his complaint to the hospital, Kenneth Chanko wrote that the program had caused him “great emotional distress and psychological harm.” He also wrote, “I had to unnecessarily relive my father’s death at your hospital a second time, while knowing that the public at large was able to — and continues to be able to — watch my father’s passing, for the purposes of what can only be described as drive-by voyeuristic ‘entertainment.'”

Ornstein said that ABC swiftly removed the program episode involving the death of Mr. Chanko “from its website, DVDs and future viewings (although not from the promotional blurb for the episode, which still says ‘Sebastian Schubl, a Dr. McDreamy-like young trauma surgeon, tries to save the day when a critically injured pedestrian struck by a vehicle is brought to the ER.’) In 2013, the state cited the hospital for violating Mr. Chanko’s rights.”

The Chanko family was not satisfied with the response to their complaint. The family sued ABC, NewYork-Presbyterian and Dr. Schubl for damages. Ornstein said that an appellate panel had recently dismissed the case. The Chanko family has asked that the panel’s decision be reviewed. Ornstein added that both Dr. Schubl and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital declined to comment for the ProPublica article.


In court filings, the hospital and ABC do not dispute that they did not have consent from Mr. Chanko or his family, but they say the patient is not identifiable to the public. The network has asserted that because “NY Med” is produced by its news division, it is protected by the First Amendment. Lawyers for NewYork-Presbyterian have argued that the state does not recognize a common law right to privacy and that any privacy right Mr. Chanko did have ended upon his death. They say that the Chankos themselves are responsible for their loss of privacy.

“There would today still be no identification of the patient or his family but for the latter’s publication via this lawsuit,” a brief for the hospital says.

Click here to read the full text of the ProPublica article When a Patient’s Death is Broadcast Without Permission.

About NY Med (ABC)

Each episode in this eight-part series toggles between the renowned surgeons of Manhattan’s New York Presbyterian Hospital and the gritty world of trauma surgeons at Newark’s University Hospital where the ER is a doorway to the mean streets of one of America’s most violent cities. This limited series takes a deep dive into high stakes medicine through the eyes of unforgettable characters.


When a Patient’s Death is Broadcast Without Permission (ProPublica)

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22 Responses to “I Saw My Husband Die”: When a Patient’s Death is Broadcast Without Permission

  1. po says:

    The silver lining to this is that Mehmet Oz might finally go away never to be heard from again.

  2. “Unconscionable” is the the word that comes to mind. Not the only word, certainly, but the prominent player. As for the counter-claim, while intentional infliction of emotional distress is one of the harder (if not hardest) torts to prosecute, the network, hospital and doctor should be more than a little concerned about that rather than the privacy matter. It’s not an argument without merit.

  3. The claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress will be a tough one, because it was obviously not “intentional,” However, after giving it only a few minutes thought, I can see some workarounds for that. There are serious ethical considerations to consider, not to mention HIPAA problems. The argument that no one would have known had the family not gone public seems disingenuous to me.

    Seems that the producers and medical center either knew or should have known (realized?) that family members, including the widow, would see this episode and react accordingly.

  4. Chuck,

    You can argue depraved and willful indifference.

  5. Or reckless disregard, or whatever the applicable standards in that state might be.

  6. Elaine M. says:

    Isn’t it an invasion of a patient’s privacy to film his treatment and broadcast it on television without having his or his family’s permission? If that isn’t against the law, it should be, IMHO.

  7. Mike Spindell says:

    I watched both NY ER and watch Dr. Oz ‘ current show. It may seem strange given my medical history, but I find the stories engrossing, perhaps because of my many ER experiences. My mid – assumption has always been that the hospital gets releases signed. In this instance apparently not.

    As for Dr. Oz, he strikes me as an intrusive phony,who inserts himself into situations where other Docs are really treating the patient and at least for the cameras, he takes credit for an involvement with the patient and family that doesn’t exist. He may at one point have been a good doctor, but now he is a media whore.

  8. Inga says:

    It’s amazing that this is being defended as a First Amendment right because NY Med is a “news” show. I assumed that because of HIPAA that all those people on those types of shows gave permission, or their families did. The complaint goes beyond the publication and loss of privacy of their relatives death, but speaks to the fact that their relatives death was filmed and and aired without consent, which seems terribly cruel and was responsible for traumatizing the family members seeing it on TV without even knowing it was being filmed.

  9. Inga,
    If programs like that are “news” shows, then we are all in trouble. Recall that I was on one of those so-called “news” type shows recently. Dumb me, I failed to realize until later that it was as bogus as a three dollar bill.

  10. Elaine,
    Since NY Med was recorded live in a setting that is supposed to be HIPAA compliant, methinks whoever gave permission for the producers to record is in deep manure. A program recorded inside a hospital emergency department has no analogue with programs such as Cops, because law enforcement does not have the equivalent of a HIPAA rule.

  11. Elaine M. says:

    Widow of man struck by a car and killed sues ABC for airing footage of his death
    Anita Chanko sued the network and New York-Presbyterian Hospital after she saw the footage of her husband Mark on the show ‘NY Med’ last year. She said both failed to get permission to televise the video recorded in the emergency room.

    Mark Fox, a lawyer for the widow, a mother of five, said his client “was completely distraught” after seeing the broadcast.

    “She had no idea he was conscious when he was brought into the ER,” he said.

    Fox said Chanko watched in horror as doctors in the operating room talked about amputating her husband’s legs and dealing with extensive bleeding in his abdomen.

    The man had a heart attack and died, prompting one doctor to ask his colleagues, “We all agree he’s gone?”

    The cameras continued to roll as the chief orthopedic resident, Sebastian Schubl, left the operating room to notify the family of the death. Fox said only their backs are visible and none of their comments are heard on air.

    Fox said the hospital and ABC violated Chanko’s patient privacy rights by not getting his permission to air the segments while he was still conscious.

    “He didn’t waive his privacy by dying,” the lawyer said.

  12. gbk says:

    What a sick culture we’ve created.

    No dignity even in death, where everything is fodder for maximum bandwidth utilization – which is the opposite of quiet reflection.

  13. “No dignity even in death, where everything is fodder for maximum bandwidth utilization – which is the opposite of quiet reflection.” – gbk

    “Soylent Green is people!” – Charlton Heston

  14. And as a reminder for anyone offended by that last comment . . .

    “Comedy is truth, only faster.” – Gilda Radner

  15. Elaine M. says:


    A sick culture indeed!:

    Widow Cries Foul: Dr. Oz’s Reality TV Show Used Clip of Husband’s Death Without Permission

    “Even with the blurred picture, you could tell it was him,” Chanko told ProPublica’s Charles Ornstein. “You could hear his speech pattern. I hear my husband say, ‘Does my wife know I’m here?'”

    Those were her husband’s last words, signifying what should have been a solemn moment reserved only for the dying person’s family and anyone else they granted permission to hear. Chanko, however, did not give NY Med or the hospital permission to film or broadcast her husband’s last moments.

    In fact, she, her family and presumably her husband were not aware that the people donning hospital gowns inside the emergency room were actually production crew for NY Med.

    Chanko went on to tell Ornstein that she heard the staff ask one another if they were ready to pronounce her husband dead. They did, and the show switches to a clip of Dr. Schubl who tells the family, not seen onscreen, the bad news.

    “I did everything I possibly could,” Dr. Schubl said. “Unfortunately, he did not survive. I am sorry.”

    Afterwards, he turns to the camera shaking his head and saying, “Rough day, rough day.”

    “It was the list clip before the commercial,” Chanko said. “Or as I put it, ‘Watch this man die, now we’re going to sell you some detergent.'”

  16. Julie says:

    As an RN (retired now) at Mayo, we never would have allowed this. Even the relatives of patients weren’t permitted to take photos of their loved one. Privacy is a cardinal principle. Anything that stresses a patient leads to a bad outcome. We nurses were not allowed to speak to the press about any of our patients. As you’re probably aware, we cared for many well-known people. I simply cannot understand how a hospital can destroy its good name by pandering to popular media.

  17. bron98 says:

    Considering many departments within the Federal Government will have access to health records, how good is HIPPA?

    with the advent of the internet and all the little hacker pud knockers, there really isnt any privacy anymore. With the amount of information the government keeps on each of us, you would have to fake your death and pay cash to actually have privacy; even then it isnt certain.

  18. Elaine M. says:


    What’s your point? Do you approve of what the hospital and ABC News did in this case?

  19. buckaroo says:

    Perhaps we might look on this incident as a group of skilled Good Samaritans trying to save another Samaritans life . What do we owe them for their effort ? People only choose to see what they wish to see. Bismark was right !!!

  20. gbk says:


    “Perhaps we might look on this incident as a group of skilled Good Samaritans trying to save another Samaritans life . What do we owe them for their effort ? People only choose to see what they wish to see. Bismark was right !!!”

    It might also be looked upon as a morbid fascination.

    A cultural fascination that transposes harsh realities for broadcasted flickering patterns of light in an attempt to ignore the cold wall of this country’s ability to ignore the former and embrace the latter.

  21. bron98 says:


    Humans seem to have a fascination with death and injury. I hope someone doesnt make a reality show of my death, unless I can get 50% of the gate.

    Wait for that reality show to appear, it would be a big hit and plenty of people would watch.

    The first episode should be Honey Boo Boo’s mother struck dead by a twinkie and dingdong.

  22. buckaroo says:

    Next time I find myself in some ER – I’ll be sure to say No Camera Please. Or better yet, my family will seek recompense for not respecting my privacy as you all try to save my life. Get real !!!

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