Online Journal
Front Page 
 Special Reports
 News Media
 Elections & Voting
 Social Security
 Editors' Blog
 Reclaiming America
 The Splendid Failure of Occupation
 The Lighter Side
 The Mailbag
 Online Journal Stores
 Official Merchandise
 Progressive Press
 Barnes and Noble
 Join Mailing List

Commentary Last Updated: Sep 6th, 2006 - 01:15:27

Santorum defends medical malpractice
By Mary Shaw
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 6, 2006, 01:12

Email this article
 Printer friendly page

With the campaign season heating up, we're once again finding ourselves besieged by TV and radio ads by candidates slinging political mud at their opponents.

Here in Pennsylvania, ultra-conservative Republican Senator Rick Santorum has wasted no time filling the airwaves with attacks aimed at his slightly less conservative Democratic challenger Bob Casey.

The Santorum campaign ad that most caught my attention so far this season is one in which Casey is criticized for opposing tort reform.

Of course, Santorum's ad uses very carefully crafted wording. The ad talks about how Santorum stands up for the rights of doctors who are being driven from the state by money-hungry trial lawyers. Move over, Mother Teresa.

For years, Santorum has campaigned against high awards for plaintiffs in medical malpractice suits, and has called for a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages for pain and suffering. But wait! Santorum forgets to mention that he supported his wife's attempts to win $500,000 in damages in a malpractice case against her chiropractor in 1999. That's twice the limit that Santorum would like to impose on everyone else.

Hypocrisy aside, let's take a look at what the issue is really all about -- and what it's NOT about.

It's not about lawyers. It's not about greed. It's about the rights of everyday people who suddenly find themselves victims of preventable medical errors.

It's about the man who had the wrong leg amputated.

It's about the woman who had an unnecessary mastectomy because of a false cancer diagnosis.

It's about the baby who will have to live with cerebral palsy and mental retardation because of a mismanaged labor and delivery.

And it's about the more than 100,000 patients who are killed each year due to medical negligence or wrongdoing.

Santorum is apparently too busy pandering for votes from the physicians' associations to care about the victims.

And he is apparently too busy pandering for votes to care about the real problems at the core of the issue.

Santorum blames the issue on the lawyers who represent the victims and win large awards. He blames them for driving up the malpractice insurance premiums that doctors must pay. And he blames them for driving the physicians out of Pennsylvania in search of states with lower liability costs. That's just the kind of political rhetoric that raises emotions and wins votes but obfuscates the real nature of the problem. And the real nature of the problem is two-fold.

First, the economy is partially to blame. Insurance companies typically invest their capital in the stock market and interest-bearing investments. When the stock market and interest rates are down, insurance companies have a harder time paying malpractice awards. So premiums go up, the doctors complain, and Rick Santorum jumps.

Which leads me to to the second cause of the problem: malpractice itself. By campaigning for tort reform, Santorum is trying to do away with the last resort of average Americans against physicians who do them harm. He is, in effect, telling us that "malpractice happens," and that physicians shouldn't have to pay so much for their mistakes. The victims should just get over it.

The physicians who support tort reform need to remember the Hippocratic Oath, by which they swore to do no harm.

And the medical community and our lawmakers should be working together to address the real cause of malpractice -- incompetent physicians -- and not just the symptoms.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. Her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. E-mail

Copyright © 1998-2006 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor

Top of Page

Latest Headlines
Skilling: An epitaph
The politics of delusion and crisis denial
American voters must not reward failure
Foreclosure USA
Degradation of democracy
Will Rogers delivers the Gettysburg Address
Chickenhawks in chief
Charnel house
Selling Satan: Iraqi war dead and the collateral damage to America's soul
What arrogance and stupidity?
Hitchens hitches his future to the Death Star
Political prestidigitation: The Illusion of a two-party system
The woman who would be speaker says, "Impeachment is off the table"
Putin gets mugged in Finland
Israel, Palestine and Canada
Godzilla vs. the Condoleezzard (Celebrating Halloween in the United States of Anxiety)
America is no longer free
The nuclear arms race and national sovereignty
One crime too many
Iraq's Orwellian calamity