How Doctors' Freedom To Act Fast Saved My Life

January 8, 2010 09:00 AM

By William A. Stanmeyer, Esq.

This is a true story. In May 2001, sudden frightening dramatic symptoms prompted me to seek immediate medical consultation and treatment. At the time, I was 66 years old. As I tell my story, count how many doctors, hospitals and medical procedures—all during a mere five weeks—were necessary to save my life.

Central to President Obama’s health care proposal is the power of government to ration care. It can ration by outright refusal of a needed operation or procedure. It also can ration through lengthy delays in approving, until it’s too late for the patient. Often doctors must act quickly, but government bureaucracy almost never acts quickly. Ask yourself whether the government would have approved any and all of these steps quickly enough—if at all—to do any good.
Look at the dates:

  1. Monday, May 21—I am given a two-hour examination by Dr. Christopher McManus in     Arlington, Virginia.
  2. Wednesday, May 23—I undergo a CT scan at Arlington Hospital (now known as Virginia Hospital Center), ordered by Dr.  McManus.
  3. Thursday, May 24—I have a consultation with gastroenterologist Dr. Suresh Malhotra, set up by Dr. McManus.
  4. Friday, May 25—Dr. Malhotra performs an endoscopy on me at Inova Alexandria Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. He discovers a golf-ball-sized tumor blocking the bile duct near the pancreas. Toxins are seeping into my blood because bodily plumbing is blocked. The tumor is cancerous, and death is certain in two–three months unless the tumor is removed by major surgery. Saturday–Monday, May 26–28, 2001 is Memorial Day weekend.
  5. Tuesday, May 29—Early that day, Dr. Malhotra calls Dr. John Cameron, chief of surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and nationally recognized expert in performing the Whipple procedure (a complicated pancreatic cancer surgery that requires removing various parts of the digestive system). Dr. Malhotra asks Dr. Cameron to remove the cancerous tumor and adjacent lymph nodes.
  6. Thursday, June 7—I have a consultation at Hopkins with Dr. Cameron, and the surgery is scheduled.
  7. Monday, June 25—I undergo major surgery at Hopkins to remove the tumor, etc. It could have taken as long as 13 hours, but this operation took only four. Dr. Cameron is among the best! I stay in the hospital stay six more days.
  8. Sunday, July 1—I am released from the hospital and go home to recuperate.
  9. Sunday, July 29—My recovery is complete. I am weak, but able to walk.  My family and I leave for our annual week-long summer vacation.

Summary: In barely more than a month, I consulted three different doctors … underwent four vital procedures … at three different hospitals … in two different states.

I would be dead today if, as was proposed in 1993, it were illegal to go to a physician outside of one’s government-directed group. But this really is not about me; I’ve already run my gauntlet and won my race.

This is about you and any other American who, in the future, might face a medical emergency that requires rapid decisions and actions, and the performance of difficult procedures (such as an endoscopy that not only views the tumor but also takes a sample for the pathologist to examine, and use of the Whipple procedure to remove a tumor), without government employees second-guessing what the physicians want to do. Go through the dates above. In each case, the doctor was free to follow his own professional judgment— and not required to get permission from a government bureaucrat—to refer me to the best professional at the next level … and to the medical facility where the specialist could act. And do it immediately. No delay. This is an emergency…

Obama’s proposed plan would have government bureaucrats decide whether all these steps would be “cost-effective.”  In most cases, they would be likely to veto them. In all cases, appealing a refusal—if even permitted—would take months. I had two months to live. Obama’s plan would kill thousands of citizens, because they would lose the race against time that the doctors and I won in May–June 2001. In many cases, delay would amount to rationing. As with justice, health care delayed is health care denied.

William A. Stanmeyer, Esq., of Great Falls, Virginia, is a retired attorney and former law professor.  He taught law at the Indiana University School of Law and constitutional law at Georgetown Law Center. Mr. Stanmeyer has written five books, including Clear and Present Danger: Church and State in Post-Christian America and The Seduction of Society: Pornography and Its Impact on American Life. This guest commentary is featured with his kind permission.

Back to news