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Presidential Malpractice
Published on Saturday, March 5, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
Presidential Malpractice
by Ralph Nader
 

Having moved along the path of destroying the freedoms and rights hitherto accorded wrongfully injured or defrauded Americans to have their full day in court via state class actions, George W. Bush is now pushing the Congress to make it even more difficult to sue for injuries and fatalities coming from medical negligence or incompetence.

Again and again, George W. Bush demands pain and suffering caps on court awards for the most serious of human injuries and other restrictions on these defenseless patients. He complains publicly about "skyrocketing" costs of "junk lawsuits" against doctors and hospitals. When people ask him to document these wild assertions with data and quantitative evidence, he totally ignores their inquiries. For good reason: he doesn't have the facts. He is trading in unilateral propaganda of the most reckless kind.

Call it Presidential malpractice, propelled by the Karl Rove-led grudge against trial lawyers supporting Democrats. His specious stance also reaps ten of millions of grateful campaign dollars from practitioners and executives and political action committees associated with insurance companies, hospital chains and medical societies (the latter declining to police its own ranks of bad doctors).

The opposition to Mr. Bush's cruel and false positions is almost entirely defensive. Groups like Public Citizen (citizen.org) and the Center for Justice and Democracy (centerjd.org) have produced mountains of factual rebuttals and brought forth the heart-wrenching victims of bad physician or hospital practices to speak for the freedom to hold their harmdoers accountable and deter future incompetence and recklessness in open courts of law.

It is long overdue to go on the offensive against George W. Bush, whose forked tongue on more than one occasion has said that "the safety of all Americans is my top priority." Why isn't he lifting a finger on probably the leading cause of preventable violence going on in the United States today - deaths and injuries and sickness from the misworkings of the medical-hospital economy?

Although other official estimates are higher, the major report by the Harvard School of Public Health physicians estimated 80,000 deaths per year (over 1500 a week) due to medical negligence. Similarly caused serious injuries run into the hundreds of thousands yearly. According to the authoritative Worst Pills Best Pills book (2005 edition by Dr. Sidney Wolfe; available at www.worstpills.org), misprescribed or overprescribed medicines are responsible for at least 100,000 deaths each year.

The Bush Administration is perfectly callous toward this daily mayhem. Bush proposed nothing to Congress about this epidemic of preventable death, injury and disease. His government does nothing with existing authority and leverage that could lift up standards and practices; this would also strengthen the presently weak doctor discipline. His Department of Health and Human Services runs the National Practitioners Data Base which collects information on physician malpractice. This is a start for some so-called "compassionate conservatism." But Bush could care less.

Mr. Bush is obsessed with going after the defenders of these unfortunate innocent patients, only a small percentage of whom collect any dollar awards for wrong diagnoses leading to injurious procedures or negligently performed operations and treatments. A surgical removal of the wrong breast or foot or kidney receives some headlines. The vast majority of harmed patients die or suffer out of sight of cheap politicians, arrogant practitioners and corporations.

The millions of Americans who have been mistreated, their caring family members, competent physicians and nurses and consumer organizations must put the spotlight and heat on the White House and its dissembling President, before he destroys more of the people's freedom to fight back and defend themselves.

As Business Week magazine has editorialized, the medical malpractice crisis is medical malpractice.

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