Posted by John Ager on 26 September 2016.
People are not always truthful. I know, shocker. But, people do lie all the time. That little white lie to protect someone’s feelings. The lie to the boss when you’re late. The lie to keep a secret, secret. Perhaps Darwin would say lying is in our nature when it’s done to protect ourselves, our families, our friends. Survival at any cost. It’s programmed in our DNA. And, we all do it. I’m not religious but…
So it should come as no surprise when a physician admitted that he lied, in court, under oath in a medical malpractice case and the defense won. Why? It went against his oath as a physician. It went against his moral fiber as a human being. It was against the law. So why did he do it? He says to protect a colleague. But it was as much to protect himself. And, it was because he knew there was nothing anyone could do. You can read more about it here.
Unfortunately, Darwin is alive and well in our legal system especially when it comes to medical malpractice litigation. I see it all the time in my practice and I have heard about it from physicians anecdotally. It’s easy to do and easy to get away with. Why doctors lie should come as no surprise. Physicians don’t want to admit they have harmed a patient by doing something wrong. They view lawyers as threats even when negligence is clear. Culturally, it is ok to do anything to protect the profession from what is largely viewed as frivolous litigation, even when it means lying about cases that are not frivolous. And, if you break the code of silence, if you don’t support your colleagues, you are ostracized and forever marked as traitor. That’s a problem.
People often ask why I always have to retain my experts witnesses in medical negligence cases from out of state. The answer is pretty easy to understand. Physicians don’t tell on one another. The medical community is fairly small, even in the largest metropolitan areas. Who wants to be known as that guy among his or her colleagues in town? I can’t say I have not felt the same way when asked to take on legal malpractice cases. Is the negligent lawyer someone I know? What will my friends think? Will I be that guy?
However, when it comes honoring a professional oath, honoring a legal oath, and swearing to tell the truth, a lack of moral fortitude to do what is right is the badge of a coward. While it was nice of the doctor above to finally come forward, the strength of his character also shows through in what he now says. He finally told the truth because “they can’t hurt me” now. “I hope nobody’s going to come back and accuse me of bad conduct. Although that’s what it was.” Huh? On whether he has reflected about the possibility his lies help win the case for his friend he says, “I haven’t touched on that question. It would make it too painful for me.” Never mind the pain his colleague may have caused his patient’s widow. He has not apologized to her. Hasn’t even tried. Would he do it over again? I think I know the answer.