The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on January 2, 1986 · Page 4
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 4

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Thursday, January 2, 1986
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Opinion The Saliiia Journal Thursday, January 2,1986 Page 4 HP1 Mitel T 1 1 he Journal Founded in 1871 HARRIS RAYL, Editor and Publisher KAYBERENSON, Executive Editor SCOTT SEIRER, News Editor LARRY MATHEWS, Assistant News Editor LORI BRACK, Weekend Editor JIMHAAG, Night Editor MARY JO PROCHAZKA, Associate Editor A 'buckle up' law Here's another reason why Kansas needs a law requiring the use of seat belts: People injured in traffic accidents could rightly be found to have contributed to their own injuries if they refused to wear safety belts. In a recent case, the Kansas Supreme Court stuck to its stand that evidence about whether a driver or passenger was wearing a seat belt at the time of a crash can't be used in automobile negligence trials. Because Kansas law doesn't require people to fasten safety belts, the failure to wear seat belts isn't proof of negligence. That's a good reason to enact a state law requiring the use of safety belts. Seat belt use is required in 16 states, according to Traffic Safety Now, a non-profit organization that supports seat belt laws. Among those states are Kansas neighbors Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma. Statistics show that the use of seat belts increases in states requiring seat belt use, and traffic deaths de- crease. Seat belts save lives. During crashes, seat belts hold passengers in place, protecting them from such secondary collisions as ramming against a dashboard or crashing through a window. If a car plunges into water, a passenger who has been held in place by a seat belt is more likely to be able to escape than a passenger who's been knocked unconscious and tossed around during the crash. Seat belts help drivers maintain control of a car by holding them in drivers' seats where they can reach the steering wheel and foot pedals. A driver who hasn't fastened a seat belt may cause many other injuries and deaths besides his own. A law requiring safety belt usage and the possibility that unbelted drivers and riders might be found to have contributed to their own or others' injuries would be a powerful incentive to use seat belts. The 1986 Legislature should pass such a law. Cycle of terror Is there an end in sight to Middle East terrorism? Not after the way the Israelis reacted to last week's attacks at Rome and Vienna airports near the check-in counters of Israel's national airline. The official Israeli response was to blame the Abu Nidal group, a splinter organization of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and promise revenge. Trouble is, revenge appears to have been the motive for the airport attacks. Terrorists were thought to have acted in response to Israel's Oct. 1 bombing of PLO headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, which killed about 70 people. So the cycle continues. Both sides attack and counterattack, killing innocent bystanders in the process of trying to make a political point. Letters Insurance costs This letter was prompted by the recent articles in your series on medical malpractice and the attempt to legislate sanity into the system in Kansas. Spiraling insurance costs are a real and present danger to full health care services in small communities. One has only to look to the experience in Florida to draw a meaningful parallel with our future in Kansas. In that state huge jury verdicts and the subsequent rise in costs for professional liability insurance have caused in excess of 90% of family physicians to abandon obstetrics practice. Your articles quote Kathleen Sebelius as saying that no physician in Kansas has stopped delivering babies because of insurance costs. I personally know several recent graduates who never started, despite excellent training, because of the current medico-legal atmosphere. To say that our state will be unaffected is ridiculous, not to mention self-serving. In their lobbying efforts, the trial lawyers have failed to mention the millions of dollars in contingency fees which they will fail to collect if a cap on jury awards goes into effect. In some cases the attorney collects as much as 50% of the jury award. If the patient is the real issue, let us work toward a fair and equitable system for dealing with injuries, one such as has been in place for workmen's compensation and disability cases. The current system is a bonanza for a few trial lawyers but very few others. If changes are not implemented, our lives and our medical care will be permanently altered. - CHRISTOPHER P. RODGERS, M.D. Fellow — American Academy of Family Practice Smith Center Agriculture board Recent press reports have been most timely and objective in reporting the proposed executive reorganization of the Kansas Board of Agriculture by Governor John Carlin. The governor is to be commended for his candor and leadership and is truly rising to meet his responsibility as the state's chief executive. As far back as 1917, then Governor Arthur Capper supported reorganization of the Board of Agriculture, but to no avail. Capper was considered one of our most famous agricultural statesmen and later served as a U.S. Senator and was the co-author of the famous Capper-Volstead Act establishing cooperatives. It is high time the Kansas Legislature consider the necessity to take the obscure Kansas Board of Agriculture and accord it cabinet status, thereby vesting accountability and performance in a cabinet-level entity. Should not agriculture, the state's number one industry, deserve cabinet status and the full commitment by our governor? The present Board of Agriculture system dates back to 1872 and is not designed to meet the complexities of today's world as evidenced by the broad decline in Kansas farms, towns and cities. This agricultural decay must be reversed now. It is incumbent on the Legislature to provide a cabinet-level Kansas Department of Agriculture to provide leadership in agriculture rather than relying on a deficit- ridden federal government in Washington, D.C. -DAN O.CAIN Farmer-rancher Topeka True Christmas We hear the reports of the store sales during the Christmas season — on the most popular toys and adult gifts — whether sales are up or down from other years. For the most part Christmas seems commercialized. However when I heard on a local radio station and read in the "Journal" about the free Christmas dinner at the 4-H Building, I realized Salina has people who really care and are concerned for others. I think Bill Fekas and his staff and all the businesses that helped to donate to this dinner deserve a great thanks. All the peopie involved missed Christmas time with their own family to help to give to others. I'm sure everyone who attended this dinner really appreciated it. The true meaning of Christmas is in Salina, Kan. — ED MUELLER 1852S. 4th Letters Quotation The realization that our small planet is only one of many worlds gives mankind the perspective it needs to realize sooner that our own world belongs to all of its creatures, that the moon landing marks the end of our childhood as a race and the beginning of a newer and better civilization.. — Arthur C.Clarke The Journal welcomes letters to the editor but does not promise to print them. The briefer they are the better chance they have. All are subject to condensation and editing. Writer's name must be signed with full address for publication. Letters become the property of The Journal. WIFE r^ocC. JOSEPH CHECKS ^g Bins— «0M I <2E>/7~ TlWT10NlSBOfcN,.i Where did U.S. concern for human rights go? BOSTON — One of America's glories is its tradition of welcome to the victims of war and persecution in the world. From Jews fleeing Czarist pogroms to Vietnamese boat people, this country has opened its arms to refugee groups and individuals seeking political asylum: the "tempest-tossed," in Emma Lazarus's words on the Statue of Liberty. That generous tradition is defied today by U.S. government policy toward refugees from El Salvador. As manifested now in many different ways, the policy is one of unrelenting harshness. While other North and Central American countries give refuge to Salvadorans, the United States sends them home as fast as possible. The Reagan administration, denying that there is any need for asylum, has done its best to suppress the facts of continuing human rights violations in El Salvador. It has infiltrated the asylum movement in this country, using paid informers to disrupt the effort by churches, synagogues and others. The relentless quality of the government's attitude toward Salvadoran refugees has been tellingly displayed in recent weeks in a federal courtroom in Los Angeles. There a trial has begun of a suit against federal officials by a class of Salvadorans in this country, represented by American Civil Liberties Union lawyers and others. The suit asks the court to make officers of the Immigration and Naturalization Service do two things in dealing with Salvadorans found in this country: First, advise them of their right to apply for political asylum here and their right to consult a lawyer. Second, refrain from coercing them to leave without seeking asylum. Those seem like mild requests. Surely the INS could live with them. In fact, Federal Anthony *k. Lewis NEW YORK TIMES District Judge David V. Kenyon issued a preliminary injunction in 1982 ordering officials to tell Salvadorans their rights. The question now is whether to make the injunction permanent. But the Justice Department has strenuously resisted the lawsuit. It delayed for two-and-one-half years before complying with an order by the judge to provide a list of State Department documents on the human rights situation in El Salvador. And then it indicated that it would ask Secretary of State Shultz to declare the documents secret. That produced a sharp reaction from Kenyon. If there was going to be a claim of secrecy, he told the government, have the documents ready for him by the first week in January in case he then decides he must examine them in private. The list belatedly supplied to the court last month included documents with titles strongly suggesting that they would be relevant to the case. Among them were "Prevalence of Torture," "Death Squad Killings" and "Death-Squad Connections With Salvadoran Expatriates In the U.S." How can U.S. officials maintain that there is nothing for Salvadoran refugees to fear at home and at the same time try to keep the, court from seeing such documents? Could it be that they fear they would be shown to know about a network of terror in El Salvador? Does George Shultz really want to endorse such a position? Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, was questioned by deposition in the lawsuit. His answers snowed extraordinary indifference to official violence and lawlessness in El Salvador. Abrams was asked about Decree 50, a Salvadoran order that suspends Constitutional guarantees. Anyone who cares about human rights in that country knows about Decree 50, and Abrams used to be assistant secretary for human rights. He answered: "Itdoesn'tringabell." U.S. Representatives in El Salvador have been trying to eliminate death squad activity, Abrams said, and they have "succeeded." He said the Duarte government had "progressed far enough to stop the human rights violations, but not to prosecute people for old violations." The fact is that death-squad killings continue in El Salvador. Those murders and disappearances and targeted assassinations by uniformed government forces have averaged 30 a month this year. Not a single member of the armed forces has been convicted or punished for killing a Salvadoran. Current as well as Abrams' "old violations" go unpunished. A commission set up by President Duarte 15 months ago to investigate political killings has disbanded without doing a thing. The issue in all this is not American foreign policy in El Salvador. It is human decency toward innocent people who flee from brutal conditions in that country. Why should United States officials deny that brutalities take place? Why should they try to force people back without a hearing? What has happened to our tradition of sympathy for refugees? Public needs more knowledge about its doctors NEW YORK — Sometime this year, after long investigation, New York District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau may submit to a grand jury charges that a family physician and certain doctors and nurses at a New York hospital were criminally negligent in the death of Libby Zion, age 18, last March 5. If indictments should result, medical practice and the public's knowledge of it will be profoundly affected. Most physicians probably would say that's bad — that the risks of criminal liability would cause more checks, tests, reviews, paperwork, etc., to protect doctors and hospitals, thus increasing medical costs but weakening health care. But the case of Libby Zion emphasizes that neither the self-disciplinary procedures of the medical profession nor civil suits for malpractice necessarily protect the public against medical incompetence or negligence. Miss Zion, a Bennington College student and the daughter of Sidney Zion, an attorney and a former reporter for The New York Times, entered New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center late on the night of March 4, with an earache and a fever. Her family physician did not personally examine her before or after he sent her to the hospital. There she was given Demerol, a drug that can cause death when taken together with Nardil, another drug hospital doctors knew she was taking. She was not seen by any doctor for about four crucial early-morning hours, during much of which she was thrashing about violently in her bed. This caused attendants, on instructions from an intern who did not Doonesbury Tom Wicker NEW YORK TIMES personally examine the patient, to put Miss Zion in a sort of straitjacket, then to tie her ankles and wrists to the bed. She died at 7:30 a.m. Sidney Zion's attorneys have obtained opinions from outside medical authorities, who examined the records of Libby Zion's treatment, that these records show "a gross deviation from the standard medical practice that contributed to her death" and "a serious lapse in clinical judgment and a gross departure from standard medical practice." That there was gross negligence in the Zion case seems indisputable; but the issue for Morgenthau is whether or not it constituted criminal negligence. Zion is urging prosecution for criminally negligent homicide; and the New York statute, on its face, seems to apply to his daughter's case. The problem for the district attorney, however, is to establish precisely which individuals, among all those involved, might have been criminally negligent, and if the evidence appears to sustain prosecution. If Zion settled for a malpractice suit, he would receive a relatively small award (his daughter was not yet a wage earner) and might have to agree to sealing the record against public view. He has no intention of thus settling — not only because he wants those responsible for his daughter's death to be held responsible but because the case has convinced him that the public needs to know more about the competence and integrity of doctors and hospitals. Malpractice suits are insufficient; the records are often sealed or kept secret if the case is settled out of court; if not, court records can be hard to find and understand. Ask yourself: Have you any idea how many malpractice cases your personal physician or your preferred hospital have been involved in? How often their insurance companies have had to pay damages? Try to find out. Doctors, moreover, only rarely have to pay increased insurance premiums or suffer loss of professional standing and privileges because they've lost a malpractice suit. Professional self-discipline is equally ineffective. Doctors who are disciplined usually are guilty of drug, alcohol or sexual abuse rather than incompetence or negligence. Of only 34 medical licenses suspended or revoked in 1984 in New York state — which has about 58,000 doctors — only eight involved medical incompetence. And sometimes doctors whose licenses have been revoked in one state can continue to practice in another. Charges of criminal negligence, if forthcoming in the Zion case, might open the way to more useful public scrutiny. Or perhaps that possibility might move the medical profession toward greater disclosure about its own offenders. , MlttR, U&PTDUVEIN A COMMUNE* 605H! WHAT WAS KUKB-? Sl&VSON. THINGS U&eveM PlFFEf&fT BACK.THBN. UHATW M™% &{&&.. MEAN! ATWUH

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