Thursday, March 04, 2004

Autopsies


The New York Times today discusses the importance of autopsies at hospitals, suggesting that they can help us better understand the human body and its diseases. The editorial notes that one of the reasons for the diminished number of autopsies is fear of malpractice litigation - when an autopsy reveals clear medical error, as historically has often been the case, there is a potential that the autopsy results will inspire or strengthen a malpractice action against the hospital or its doctors.

With all due respect to fear of litigation, please note that the concern is not about frivolous litigation but is about well-founded litigation premised upon the unbiased findings of a medical examiner. I am certainly not one to argue that autopsies should be performed to help malpractice lawyers, but I will argue that they should not be avoided in order to protect doctors and hospitals from their culpable errors. If the medical professions did a better job of policing themselves, and of keeping their less competent peers from treating patients, we would probably see an overall decrease in the cost of malpractice litigation and the cost of malpractice insurance. Hiding from the facts permits the medical professions to avoid some unpleasant internal confrontations, but it can only serve to hurt the patient.

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