Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Medical Malpractice Reform and the Feres Doctrine

Ever wonder why the government is so lukewarm towards medical malpractice reform despite overwhelming support of the medical community (17% of this country's GDP) and patients?  It's not necessarily because trial lawyers are the biggest contributors to President Obama and the rest of the Democratic Party.  Maybe it's because the government doesn't feel any pain from medical malpractice lawsuits thanks to its immunity from liability due to the Feres Doctrine. 

The Feres Doctrine came from a 1950 decision by the Supreme Court that prevents military personnel from suing the federal government for medical malpractice injuries that occur while being treated at military hospitals.  Thus the government is shielded from egregious acts of malpractice that most residents who rotate through VA hospitals are all too familiar with.

More and more cases of appalling deaths and injuries at our military hospitals are coming to light.  There is the case of the young man who was treated at Travis Air Force Base for appendicitis and died postop when he developed respiratory failure and was intubated down the esophagus by a CRNA.  Another service personnel was supposed to get a routine Cesarean section at Langley Air Force Base.  Her uterine artery was cut and the patient suffered a massive hemorrhage.  She was dead 12 hours later. A navy recruit training for submarine duty was improperly treated for pneumonia at a naval hospital in Bremerton, WA.  He ultimately endured removal of part of a lung and now has permanent brain damage.

There is a bill in front of Congress, H.R. 1478, that will allow military personnel to sue the government for medical malpractice.  The chances of the bill becoming law is pretty slim.  Says Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University, "It would cost a huge amount of money to upgrade the military medical system to meet basic civilian standards. Congress simply doesn't want to spend the money."  An opponent of the bill, Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia had this to say about the bill, "I don’t think the answer is always just having more litigation."

There you go, straight from a congressman's mouth.  The solution to medical negligence is not to have more lawsuits.  Somehow this enlightening philosophy only applies to the federal government, not the private medical community that continues to spend billions on clinically unnecessary defensive medicine, legal defenses, and exorbitant malpractice premiums.  Where are the trial lawyers?  Aren't they supposed to stand up for the defenseless little guy who has no recourse for his injuries except to file a lawsuit?  Or have they been exposed for what they really are, greedy ambulance chasers who are reluctant to bite the federal hand that feeds them?

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