Yesterday, a nurse refused CPR to a patient in extremis, and the patient died. If this tragedy doesn’t signal just how much lawyers have screwed up our society, I don’t know what does.
The refusal to render CPR may or may not prove to have led directly to this poor woman’s death. But that’s beside the point. The assisted living facility may or may not be found to have been culpable due to professional negligence and, hence, be legally liable for the death under prevailing interpretations of California tort doctrine and malpractice case law. Technically, they are not a healthcare provider, despite having a nurse on staff. But that, too, is beside the point.
The refusal was blatantly heartless, and that is very much the point. It constitutes moral malpractice, and that, too, is very much the point. The rationale for the refusal is unethical, and that is also very much the point.
Clearly, an inhumane yet practical “administrative policy” is the given reason for the otherwise inexplicable refusal of vital aid. Just as clearly, such policy is designed to insulate the facility from law suits in the event that, in giving aid, something goes wrong or it simply fails. Apparently, existing California “good Samaritan” statutes, which give that insulation to people who volunteer aid like CPR (such as a passing motorist who comes upon an accident scene), are not designed to insulate health care providers.
Professionally, I therefore understand the policy to refuse aid. Personally, I condemn the refusal. It is precisely that ethical dichotomy which causes me to write this piece. It helps me ventilate a long steaming public policy issue, namely TORT REFORM.
There is no ultimate societal benefit from a legal system that forces the practice of inhumane policy. But there are plenty of detriments. When what is immoral becomes legal, grave consequences result. Reforming our tort system is necessary for a wide range of reasons, all of which are needed to correct harms inflicted every single day by a freewheeling plaintiff’s bar. Legislators simply must make this a priority. Perhaps this abhorrent and wholly unnecessary event will compel them to finally take action. But I don’t hold great hope. Frankly, my view of current legislatures in California and in Washington, D.C. holds them guilty of their own brand of massive malpractice. No matter what the issue, they just don’t seem competent enough to make good law.
For the record, the facility in this case is the Glenwood Gardens Retirement Facility in Bakersfield, California. The victim was 87-year-old Lorraine Bayless. Godspeed to her soul and to her family.