A Chilling AMA Resolution: What Happened to the Hippocratic Oath?

Unless cooler heads prevail, the American Medical Association is teetering on the brink of public ridicule, mockery and indignation. Resolution 202 has been introduced by Dr. J. Chris Hawk III from South Carolina to the AMA's Committee B. It is aimed directly at trial lawyers as patients.

This resolution sets a new record for loss of sensitivity toward the tens of thousands of patients who die every year due to the gross negligence or incompetence called medical malpractice. This proposed resolution reflects the AMA's disappointment that the doctor's lobby has not adequately torpedoed the legal rights of these innocent plaintiffs in court. So it recommends major legal "surgery" that should turn the stomachs of more conscientious ethical and competent physicians than just gastroenterologists.

Here are the chilling words:

"RESOLVED, That our American Medical Association notify physicians that, except in emergencies and except as otherwise required by law or other professional regulation, it is not unethical to refuse care to plaintiffs' attorneys and their spouses."

Well at least the third generation Hawk left out the children.

The chilling explanation by Dr. Hawk for this proposed resolution is that lawsuits against medical-practice mayhem raise malpractice insurance premiums "forcing physicians to reduce their scope of practice, relocate, and retire early." Therefore, he concludes, trial attorneys should be given "the opportunity to experience the access problems caused by the professional liability crisis," [and] then "perhaps they would be willing to help change the system."

The main problem with this sadistic sequence of illogic is that it is false. The insurance companies are gouging the physicians by creating a phony crisis and playing off the natural desire of physicians never to be sued. Take all the premiums paid by doctors to insurance companies for malpractice coverage and divide the sum by all the practicing physicians. The premium would be about $10,000 a year -- a third of what they pay an experienced receptionist in their offices.

Regulating insurance premiums to prevent over-classification of specialists (which jack up rates), promoting experience loss rating (so that the fewer bad doctors pay more than the competent doctors) and stiffening regulation by state licensing boards to focus on the chronically harmful physicians would help reduce the damage to innocent patients.

Five percent of physicians account for about fifty percent of filed medical malpractice lawsuits. The total amount paid out in verdicts and settlements in all malpractice lawsuits is between $5 and $6 billion -- less than the amount spent just on dog food in this country. Only ten percent of medical malpractice victims even file a claim

Yet according to the Harvard School of Public Health Physicians, 80,000 Americans die every year from medical negligence or worse just in hospitals alone. Hundreds of thousands are significantly injured. By comparison with the insurance premiums paid, one of the Harvard physicians estimated the cost of medical malpractice casualties to be over $60 billion a year.

Dr. Hawk III's narrow frame of reference must have precluded him from reading the data and studies that contradict his precipitous attempt to embrace the AMA with a sordid display of unethical recommendations. He should log onto the websites Citizen.org and Centerjd.org for his enlightenment (the web sites include data countering the allegation that doctors are abandoning their practice).

It would be nice to refer him to an AMA website on medical malpractice and what his organization is doing about this preventable violence. But there is none. The AMA is oblivious, showing no interest in this nationwide tragedy.

Dr. Hawk III's proposed resolution goes to Committee B and, if approved, will go to the American Medical Association's House of Delegates for deliberation. Let Americans see how out of touch the AMA is with reality and how subservient to the insurance industry they continue to be.

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