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Shielding Doctors From Accountability

Posted Oct 28 2008 9:57pm
The movement to shield doctors from accountability seems to be growing in state houses across the country.

Yesterday, an Associated Press article by Joe Mullin discusses an expansion of New Hampshire’s physician secrecy law to other states, including Arizona, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Texas. Enacting physician secrecy legislation is yet another extension of the paternalistic attitudes to physicians that I have previously discussed (see A Question of Influence – Are Doctors Morally Bankrupt? ).

And another Associated Press article by Ray Henry noted that there is a movement in the U.S. to enact “I’m-sorry-I-killed-your-mother” laws. The legislation is currently being considered in Rhode Island and eight other states. These laws have already been passed in 27 other states over the last four years and the AMA has lobbied for their passage. The goal is to pass legislation in which physicians can apologize for harming (or killing) patients and, potentially, shield them from accountability and malpractice suits.

I am not a fan of trial lawyers or the flood of frivolous malpractice suits. However, I am greatly concerned that shielding doctors from accountability can have a disastrous impact on patient health. Physicians make mistakes and they absolutely need to apologize for it, but creating shields of immunity are not likely to decrease medical errors (and could potentially have the opposite effect).
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