CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia attorney general and others have recently been concerned about the treatment of women who are having an abortion and whether any regulation of such a clinic could have prevented negligent harm and improve the safety of that patient.
Focusing on the providers of abortions misses the larger picture.
I have represented victims of medical malpractice in West Virginia for over 35 years, and in that time, I have never had an inquiry from anyone who alleged injury from an abortion provider. Of course, this does not mean that negligence cannot happen during such a procedure, just that it has been, and will in the future be, uncommon.
On the other hand, I have represented many people or their survivors who have been injured in surgery or during the delivery of a child.
When such an injury or death occurs in those situations, the person bringing a lawsuit starts out with a great disadvantage as all the documentation of what happened is written or dictated by the people who caused the injury.
So, for example, a patient bleeds to death in surgery and the doctor is vague about what caused the bleeding, or dictates that he did everything all right but that the bleeding was "unexpected."
Another example would be a woman in a prolonged labor asking for a C-section, the doctor saying no, and the child having permanent injuries caused by a delay in delivery. The doctor's dictation does not include the request by the patient for a procedure that would have prevented the injuries.
The commercial airline industry solved the problem of self-serving record-keeping a long time ago by installing so-called "black boxes" that record the pilots' conversations, as well as the function of the airplane and its equipment when an accident occurs. This record provides accurate, objective and irrefutable proof whether there was negligence when an accident occurs, or whether a crash was unavoidable and no one was at fault.
It is not by chance therefore that the death risk for U.S. passengers is one in 45 million flights, or put another way, a passenger could fly every day for 123,000 years before being in a fatal crash. Compare that with at least 100,000 people dying every year from medical errors.
If "black boxes" or video cameras were used in surgery or in labor and delivery, there would be no doubt about whether negligence caused an injury or death.
Before anyone questions whether or not anyone would have their privacy violated, you could make it voluntary on the part of the patient.
I would recommend that the attorney general work on protecting a great number of consumers in those areas in hospitals where we know injury, death and negligence occur by requiring such methods as I have described to be instituted by hospitals and clinics.
Lindsay is a lawyer and physician in Charleston.