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Monday, February 8, 2010

A Routine Procedure

February 8, 2010
F. Grey Parker

Rep. John Murtha died today from "complications" following commonplace gallbladder surgery. He was a man greatly admired on the Left and reviled on the Right. Already, his death and it's circumstances are becoming grist for the chattering class.

As the nation prepares to return to the health care debate, it would be wise not to overplay the hand Murtha's death has dealt the Democrats. But the "complications" from which he died are relevant to some of the arguments we can typically expect from Republicans as they continue to obstruct progress and fight for Corporate Medicine. The cause of death was doctor error. Through stupidity, ineptitude or simple bad luck his intestines were punctured.

The Right wing (as well as the more gutless Democrats) have for years been focusing principally on "Tort Reform" as the only real requirement of any reform in medicine. "Tort Reform" is, quite frankly, an ugly euphamism for letting more doctors off the hook when they kill people. Is there substantial abuse of the legal system in dealing with alleged physician misconduct? Indeed there is. Is the way to reduce danger from our own physicians to force some sort of doctor-mediated binding arbitration on the public? Absolutely not.

It is interesting that the great debate has so far been dominated by the subject of who has and who does not have insurance coverage. There is indeed a terrible crisis of available basic and preventive care in America. A recent and quite well vetted Harvard study reached the conclusion that approximately 45,000 of our citizens perish annually due to their being uninsured.

In a 2002 study by HealthGrades, doctor error in America was estimated to cause the deaths of as many as 195,000 people a year. The number is staggering. It exceeds all deaths from auto accidents, gunshots, AIDS, drug overdoses and breast cancer combined. To hold hostage the health care reform bill until their is a more excessive limitation on the right to seek compensation following malpractice is simply obscene.

The numbers speak for themselves. From a certain point of view, it would appear to be more dangerous to be insured than not.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Murtha. I, for one, thank you for your service. And I hope there is some reckoning for the doctors who killed you.

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