Members of the US Military are once again seeking to overturn a 1950 Supreme Court decision which denies active duty service members the right to file medical malpractice lawsuits. This effort comes after a string of careless and deadly medical errors occurring at military hospitals across the country. Case in point (reported in the LA Times):
Minutes after routine surgery for acute appendicitis in October 2003, Staff Sgt. Dean Witt, 25, was being moved to a recovery room at a Northern California military hospital when he gasped and stopped breathing. A student nurse assisting an understaffed anesthesia team tried to resuscitate Witt and failed. Inexplicably, Witt”s gurney was wheeled into a pediatric area. Lifesaving devices sized for children, not a 175-pound adult, proved useless, according to an internal report on the incident.
Medical personnel at David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base screamed at each other. A double dose of a powerful stimulant was mistakenly administered. When a breathing tube was finally inserted, it was misdirected, uselessly pumping air into the patient”s stomach. Errors compounded errors and delays multiplied.
By the time a breathing tube finally was inserted correctly, Witt had devastating brain damage. Three months later, he was removed from life support and died. Witt, who grew up in Oroville, Calif., left behind a wife and two children, including a 4-month-old son.
Apparently, medical errors such as this happen often at miltary hosptials. This isn”t surprising considering the fact that miltary hosptials are typically understaffed and poorly funded. Consequently, the miltary has taken steps to ensure that these hosptials are immune from medical malpractice lawsuits because medical mistakes are bound to happen and they can”t afford to pay. I understand the logic, but the real question is whether this is fair to the servicemen and women who risk their lives defending this country only to loose them at the hands of poorly trained medical staff in a miltary hospital?
Clearly, the Supreme Court seems to think so. They have consistenly upheld the 1950 ruling of Feres v. United States, which denies the right of active-duty servicemen and women to file medical malpractice lawsuits–even when it is clear that a deliberate medical error has occurred. The Court has bought into the government”s argument that the dicipline of the military will be compromised if it is forced to deal with costly and time consuming litigation for medical malpractice. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former fighter pilot, has even gone as far as calling Feres “a reasonable approach to ensuring that litigation does not interfere with the objectives and readiness of our nation”s military.”
In my opinion, Hunter”s statement and the Court”s reasoning makes very little sense. Basically, the military assumes that medical malpractice lawsuits willl compromise the quality of the nation”s military by paying out money that is better spent on equipment, personnel, etc.. However, what they fail to realize is that this policy will have the exact opposite effect in the long run. If men and women can not count on the miltary to provide quality care for them or their families should they get hurt or sick while on duty, they will not join and enlistment will plummet. Its just that simple.
Furthermore, if the Supreme Court and Congress can not justify allowing servicemen and women to file a lawsuit after they have been permanently injured as a result of medical malpractice, then at the very least they should force the military to hire better doctors and medical staff to cut down on some of these careless mistakes. Our men and women expect to risk their lives on the battlefiled– not at miltary hosptials that they count on to help them get well. It”s just not right, and the miltiary will eventually pay for this choice if they do not actively change their ways.
For further information on medical malpractice lawsuits, click on the links below: