Thursday, February 24, 2005


Backward First-World Country

I have a friend who is a heart surgeon. He tells me he's been going through a mild "mid-life crisis" in that he's trying to figure out what he'll be doing for the rest of his productive life. He says he's feeling somewhat "re-radicalized," and wants to give something back.

He and many of his colleagues (in a medium-sized Midwestern American city) would like to establish a free clinic for poor and uninsured patients. But they can't. They can't find any umbrella organization willing to provide them with clinic space and malpractice insurance. The reason my friend can't work at the existing free clinic in his area is because it would cost him $30,000 of his own money every year to protect himself from malpractice liability.

I don't know anything about the specific laws that pertain, of course, but just off the top of my head it seems reasonable for free clinic patients to agree not to sue their doctors, in return for the free medical care they're receiving. The clinic could have a volunteer explain to the patients that the only way the doctors can afford to give away their time is if they don't have to buy extra malpractice insurance. Waiving their right to sue would amount to the "cost" of the free care.

Evidently that's not possible.

Odd. There was a piece on ABC News last night about how car dealers are embedding deep into the fine print of their contracts a clause which prevents customers from suing them. It commits the customers to arbitration instead. Naturally, at the bottom of the contract, where you sign, it says something like, "I attest that I have read carefully all of the foregoing..." but, naturally, most people don't, since the contracts are usually written in dense legalese and are longer than the average short story. So people are signing away their rights to sue without knowing it. In all but one case, the courts have actually upheld the hidden clause.

Kinda funny that you can sign away your right to sue a corporation when you don't even know you're doing it, but indigent patients receiving free medical care cannot sign away their rights to sue--even if they know what they're doing and intend to do it--such that the doctors they want treatment from would be enabled to treat them!

So what's my friend going to do? Well, he hasn't decided for sure yet, but the most likely alternative is that he will indeed end up working part-time in a free clinic . . . in Sri Lanka.

The Quotidian Meander

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