Acton Institute Powerblog

Mistaken Mastectomy

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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 a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.