Paths of Glory

John J. Hopkins Jun. 19, 2005, 1:02pm

As all who care already know, the Illinois state legislature met in final session last month. Showing the courage and moral integrity of the French Army, they buckled in to political pressure and passed a medical malpractice bill.

With great fanfare and self-congratulatory orations, they have presented to the consuming public their solution to the “crisis” of the vanishing physician. Cutting a deal to stave off political pressures, despite previous statements of opposition, a bill was presented that can neither be defended, excused nor forgiven.

The General Assembly’s recent conduct would embarrass the French, a group well known to blame scapegoats for failed policies, preferring to blame not the powerful on the top but instead the helpless on the bottom. This act of hypocrisy is unflinchingly exposed in Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 film “Paths of Glory."

The film is a story of World War I. In one of his best performances, Kirk Douglas plays Col. Dax, the leader of a battle-weary brigade, engaged in trench warfare along the western front. His men are ordered to take a fortified hill by way of a frontal assault, a virtual suicide mission. Naturally, the attack fails.

But when the smoke clears and the search for blame begins, it leads not to an incompetent general staff, but reaches out in panic to grab scapegoats, three to be exact. Three line soldiers are picked out at random, and shot for cowardice in the face of the enemy. So the blood of the innocent is offered up as sacrifice to purge the sins of the truly guilty in a vain attempt to solve this “crisis.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

I doubt that many members of the General Assembly have seen “Paths of Glory.” If they had, its unforgettable message would not have been so easily disregarded.

Ignoring facts, rejecting academically verified data, and abandoning common decency, our General Assembly ran for cover when the going got tough.

Led by Democrats Bill “Frenchy” Haines, and Pepe Le Beiser, they chose not to stand up and lead, but jump on board the train of hysteria, offering caps on damages as a panacea.

“If the problem is rising premiums, then cap the premiums, not the damages.” This observation of Rep. Louis Lang was rejected as too simplistically fair. Getting to the root of a problem is always much harder than just succumbing to political deals and pay backs.

It is wise to note that the real losers in this shady deal are not the so-called greedy trial lawyers, taking in the average 25 percent in fees and expense. Yes, that is the true amount, not the lies told about 50 percent going to attorneys fees. The real losers are the victims of the more than 100,000 yearly medical mistakes, recipients of the now restricted 75 percent.

Damage caps are designed to rein in run-away juries in medical malpractice cases. The problem with such a final solution is that it is built upon a foundation of sand, the myth of the overly generous, out of control citizen panel, capriciously doling out extreme sums of cash in frivolous cases.

The reality is far different, with a court system stacked overwhelmingly in favor of the medical defendant, and a jury pool, especially in blue collar Madison County, still holding doctors and hospitals up on the pedestal of class inequities.

The reality is reflected in the 90 percent of the cases going in favor of the malpractice defendant, and in the 10 percent aberrations, very low awards indeed.

As the scapegoat for unjustified premium-gouging by a greedy, unregulated and captive insurance carrier (ISMIE), damage caps punish women, children and the low income, while enriching the already wealthy.

In the event they are constitutionally approved by the Supreme Court, the caps will only curtail consumer rights, profit ISMIE and make negligence unaccountable. But no premiums will be lowered, no doctors will return and no patient will have the security of a full redress in the Court, just the consolation of an “I’m sorry” to soothe the pain of the blind eye or the dead loved one.

Once again, as in war-torn France, blatant fear has triumphed. The voices of truth, the voices of reason, the voices of courage, have been silenced by default.

Those entrusted to lead opted instead for the safety of the back-room political deal. State Rep. Brosnahan said it best.

“This legislation is terrible, and it is a shame that we have to vote on this...Sometimes it is better to lose your seat, than to lose your principles.”

It is a question of what you value.

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