Forget it, Jake...It's Chinatown

John J. Hopkins Mar. 13, 2005, 4:54am

The American Film Institute--the nation’s premier chronicler of our cinematic past--is engaged in another one of it’s “100 Best” campaigns.

In the past, AFI has selected the 100 best films, the 100 best songs, the 100 best villains, the 100 best heroes, etc. The current contest is to select from the list of 400 nominees the 100 best “movie quotes" of all time.

On the list of 400, and sure to make the final cut is the line from the 1974 classic, “Chinatown." Spoken by Walsh - last name unknown - it’s a two-sentence manifesto on apathy and the power of the inevitable.

Delivered after all hell has broken loose, the female lead is dead, and relatively corrupt Good has been defeated by absolute Evil, it is the last line of the movie:

“Forget it’s Chinatown,” capsulizes the futility of the lost cause, the surrender of reason and decency to the forces of darkness, the facts be damned because nobody cares.

Here in Hellhole No. 1, we have our own version of Walsh’s Chinatown with the so-called "Malpractice Mess,” where the collision of facts and fantasy produce not the truth, but an ever-increasing, ever-bigger lie in which the reality is out-stripped by the hype. Let us examine.

A trip to the website for Gateway Regional Hospital in Granite the following glowing pronouncements, in this the land of the wholesale physician exodus:

“According to news reports, physicians are leaving Madison County in bundles. (Yet), Gateway is proud to announce new additions to our staff...We are proud to bring the following physicians to our staff..."

The on-line advertisement goes on to brag about the inclusion of several specialists to the staff: a urologist, two radiologists, a vascular surgeon, as well as two family practicioners, two internists, and one of the so-called endangered species, a board-certified Ob\Gyn.

All these increases despite the daily mantra of docs seeing Madison County in the rear-view mirror, heading for Tennessee.

In my home town--supposedly hard hit Alton--we have seen the addition of cardiologists, neurologists, internists, family practicioners, and an Ob\Gyn.

Not willing to stop there, Alton’s two hospitals, St. Anthony’s and Memorial, have both announced the openings of separate, state-of-the-art cancer treatment centers, fully staffed and equipped.

This, in a town of under 35,000. All this high tech availability, only minutes away from the world-class facility of Barnes Hospital. Where’s the crisis? Sounds pretty safe and prosperous to me.

While the convenience of such advances cannot be denied and is much appreciated, it cuts the main argument for med mal reform right to the bone. Driven by false and misleading--at times intentionally misleading statements--the debate on medical liability has reached a hysterical fever pitch.

The recent vote by the Madison County Board in favor of damage caps is a shameless capitulation to fear, without any regard for the facts. I am truly dismayed that the Board could be stampeded into a such action.

Once again, we have empirical information that shows that damage caps will not bring down rates, will not help the doctors, and will only help to enrich the liability insurers.

The recent study by researchers from the University of Texas School of Law, the University of Illinois Schools of Law AND the School of Medicine, and the Columbia School of Law in New York, found in the State of Texas - the Bush pre-Washington social laboratory -in examining all of the closed med mal files from 1988 to 2002, that rates, payments and verdicts were consistent, and that the premiums increases from 1999 to 2002 were not due to the tort system run amuck, but instead due to the cyclical fluctuations of the insurance market.

The study concluded that “In the future, malpractice reform advocates should consider whether insurance market dynamics are responsible for market hikes.” All this in a state which in 1998 instituted a “hard damage" cap of $250,000, stripping victims of rights, but not easing the physicians’s fiscal pain one bit. Instead insurance companies--the true villains in this Morality Play--were the benefactors of the windfall.

But does any one care?

Does anybody REALLY want the truth? Or, do they simply want the path of least resistance? The grease to silence the squeaking wheel?

Only a small percentage of the voters are victims of medical mistakes. According to the latest statistics, less than 10 percent of the more than 200,000 yearly victims engage in litigation.

An even smaller number are the lawyers who fight to give them justice. The votes are clearly with the hysterical mob, waving their green wrist bands. Genuine discussions, rational dialogues, impartial decision-making, resulting in laws fair to all?

"Forget it’s Chinatown."

P.S.: The AFI No. 1 hero..LAWYER Atticus Finch. The No. 1 villain...DOCTOR Hannibal Lector. Think about it if you will.

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