A businessperson has a perfect right to refuse service to anyone he/she chooses, for whatever reason he/she chooses. If said businessperson feels that doing business with someone runs counter to their best interests, who can blame them for saying no? But can (or should) the same right be extended to doctors? If a doctor knows that the person they are about to treat is a malpractice suit looking for a place to happen, does that doctor have an obligation to provide elective treatment? Does that doctor have an obligation to treat someone they know or feel is essentially working to put them out of business?
Some trial lawyers, who typically vie with journalists and odoriferous pond scum for the basement of public opinion, are being denied medical care by some doctors unhappy over the rising cost of malpractice insurance.
Most doctors, of course, don't support this kind of backlash. At last week's meeting of the American Medical Association, members shouted down a proposal by a Charleston, S.C., physician that would deny treatment to lawyers involved in malpractice cases.
But an Associated Press story about the meeting also cited three examples where lawyers and their families were denied care:
The Charleston doctor dropped a patient when he found out her husband was a trial lawyer. A plastic surgeon in Mississippi refused to treat the daughter of a state lawmaker who opposed limits on malpractice lawsuits. And a neurosurgeon in New Hampshire declined to treat the head of the state trial lawyers association for elective surgery.
The moves are a radical outgrowth of a larger, more reasoned effort in the medical community to rein in medical liability costs. Physicians groups, including the AMA, have been lobbying for tort reform, changes in the laws that would limit the damages that could be awarded for malpractice claims.
No reasonable doctor would refuse treatment to a person in dire need. Every doctor I have ever known considers the Hippocratic Oath to be sacrosanct. Then again, that is not the point of this discussion. Does a doctor have an obligation to render elective treatment to someone he/she knows to be dedicated to increasing that doctor's degree of difficulty in doing business and obtaining affordable malpractice insurance? At some point, a doctor, like any other businessperson, has the right and the responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of their practice. Perhaps when trial lawyers begin to recognize their role in this train wreck, we can make some progress.
Physicians need to be able to practice medicine without having to constantly look over their shoulders. If this sort of passive protest is what it takes to be able to drive that point home, so be it. I salute them for it. I do not believe that any doctor with a functioning moral compass would deny anyone necessary and prudent treatment. Still, were I to be in a similar situation, I'd sure as Hell be looking for some way to register my disgust with the system.