Mistaken mastectomy
Religion & Liberty Online

Mistaken mastectomy

According to the AP, Molly Akers has filed a lawsuit against the University of Chicago Hospitals, seeking more than $200,000 in damages for the pain, suffering and lost wages she suffered when her healthy right breast was surgically removed.

The mistake was the result of a lab mix-up, and in a statement released on NBC’s Today Show, the hospital expressed regret for the mistake.

Akers’ lawyer, Bob Clifford, is using the case as an opportunity to speak against proposed tort reform measures. Mr. Clifford, on the Today Show, derided President Bush’s cap on pain and suffering and punitive damages to $250,000, and in the AP report “said if state lawmakers move forward with one malpractice reform plan gaining momentum in Springfield, Akers could end up with only $75,000.” He also said that the AFL-CIO and NAACP are on board with him opposing the tort reform measures.

This is certainly a tragic case, but it raises for me a nagging question about the punishment of well-intentioned actors for mistakes. In this case, the mistake may or may not have been legally negligent.

But the question becomes more sharply focused not only in medical malpractice, but also in the case of suits against pharmaceutical companies, for example. No one is coerced into accepting treatment or into taking a particular drug. Perhaps one day we’ll be able to sue for wrongful death when a medical treatment, even if appropriately applied, fails to save a life.

The most recent volume of the Christian Social Thought Series, Trial By Fury: Restoring the Common Good in Tort Litigation, discusses some of the changes that have been made over the years to tort law.

Among the changes is the decline of the “charitable immunity” defense, based on “the recognition that damage awards sometimes do not serve the common good.”

The author, Ronald Rychlak, writes, “The importance of compensating the injured party has trumped the old view that saw protection of charities, hospitals, and government entities as being in the public interest.”

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.