Consumer and patient safety advocates know how important lawsuits are to making health care safer, especially in hospitals. While we can argue this until we’re blue in the face, we know nothing’s as powerful as real life examples. That’s why a story from Norfolk, Virginia’s paper, the Virginia-Pilot, is so powerful.
As we’ve noted before, soldiers who return home from war but are later killed or injured in U.S. military hospitals due to incompetent or reckless medical care, have absolutely no recourse because of the “Feres Doctrine.” Some are now trying to change the law.
But in the meantime, the hospital casualty-count continues. In 2007, a 37-year old Air Force technical sergeant named Cindy Wilson died after giving birth to a healthy baby boy via c-section. Medical records indicate that her uterine artery was cut during delivery, which caused massive internal bleeding. Then, during efforts to repair the damage, two surgical sponges were left in Wilson’s stomach. Twelve hours later she was dead.
Jonathon Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and outspoken critic of the doctrine said such cases show how it has contributed to “substandard care in the military medical system.” Turley indicated to the paper that “Now it’s rare to see that type of malpractice in civilian medicine … But because there is no fear of lawsuits, it keeps happening in military medicine.”
The article goes on to provide a sampling of other military malpractice suits that have been barred over the years:
* When sailor Dawn Lambert went to have a fallopian tube removed, military surgeons left five sponges and a plastic marking device in her abdomen. They remained there for months until a second surgery left her infertile.
* For 11 months, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Walter Hardin’s red lesions were classified as eczema. His condition was correctly diagnosed as cancer shortly before he died.
* Air Force Staff Sgt. Dean Witt’s appendicitis was misdiagnosed and he was sent home with antibiotics. When he collapsed at home, he was rushed into surgery and came out brain-dead.
* According to his medical records, Marine Sgt. Carmelo Rodriguez was correctly diagnosed with melanoma when he entered the service. But no one told him about it or suggested any treatment. The cancer spread throughout his body and he died 10 years later.
* Navy Petty Officer Joe Cragnotti went to a military hospital with pneumonia, which is treatable with antibiotics. It went untreated, and he suffered permanent brain damage.
As for the bill before Congress aimed at ending the Feres Doctrine, the House Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee approved it today, and it will now head to the full House Judiciary Committee. Still, Turley said he isn’t optimistic about its chances for passage.
He told UPI, “It would cost a huge amount of money to upgrade the military medical system to meet basic civilian standards … Congress simply doesn't want to spend the money.”