Whalen v. Roe

429 U.S. 589 (1977)


An Act required that all prescriptions for Schedule II drugs be forwarded to the New York State Department of Health. When the State got information, it input all the data into computers. The receiving room is surrounded by a locked wire fence and protected by an alarm system. The computer tapes containing the prescription data are kept in a locked cabinet. When the tapes are used, the computer is run 'off-line,' which means that no terminal outside of the computer room can read or record any information. Public disclosure of the identity of patients is expressly prohibited by the statute and by a Department of Health regulation. This litigation was commenced by a group of patients regularly receiving prescriptions for Schedule II drugs, by doctors who prescribe such drugs, and by two associations of physicians. The District Court held that 'the doctor-patient relationship is one of the zones of privacy accorded constitutional protection,' and that the patient identification provisions of the Act invaded this zone with 'a needlessly broad sweep,' and enjoined enforcement of the provisions of the Act which deal with the reporting of patients' names and addresses. The District Court enjoined enforcement on a violation of constitutionally protected rights of privacy.