HOW HE SEES IT Bush aims to unplug patients' rights

If President Bush and his army of tort reformers have their way, future Terri Schiavos will be left without legal recourse for the medical malpractice that put them on feeding tubes and other life-support systems.
Much has been said about the hypocrisy of those who fought for Terri to live while backing capital punishment. But there has been silence about the hypocrisy of those, like President Bush, who by statute would leave the victims of malpractice and their families with virtually no chance of compensation.
Michael Schiavo sued his wife's doctor and got a settlement of about $1 million -- $700,000 for Terri's economic loss, meaning her health care, and $300,000 for his loss of "consortium," his wife's companionship.
The bill now promoted by Bush makes the famous "caps" on the pain and suffering of patients $250,000. And this means that no lawyer could be expected to take the case, because his expenses would far exceed any possibility of fees.
In other words, there's a right to life but no right to a lawyer.
Moreover, even the right to compensation for pain and suffering could be contested in cases like Terri's. If you're brain dead, you have no pain or suffering, right?
If you believe they'd be embarrassed to assert this, forget about it.
Botched birth
Tom Moore, one of the finest plaintiff lawyers in the nation, told me that's exactly what they did, the insurance companies, in a case where a botched birth left a mother in an irreversible coma.
"But the jury didn't agree," he said. "If the Bush bill goes through, however, the caps would end it; the jury would have no power to overcome the $250,000 cap."
Moreover, the way the Bush law will work is to deprive the victim of essential medical care. Assuming, for example, a $1 million verdict or settlement, the lawyer would get a $200,000 fee. This would come off the top from the medical expenses.
It's exactly the wrong way to do it. Because the patient will then not be allowed the required care. Right to life but not right to live.
When the malpractice money runs out, if there ever is money, the patient becomes a ward of the state.
The dough from Schiavo's settlement paid for Terri's feeding tube. The Bush administration and its congressional cohorts spent more on plane fare. All this, to save everything but her quality of life, about which nobody cared. Check it out.
X Sidney Zion is a columnist for the New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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