By Troy Torres
Speaker Therese Terlaje, in a snap news conference Friday afternoon revealed that some co-sponsors of her legislation to reform Guam's ancient medical malpractice law have received threats from their doctors.
The senators, according to the speaker, "are being threatened or told they will be shut out of medical care," if they continue to support Terlaje's Bill No. 112.
The Seventh Day Adventist Clinic sent a letter to its patients - including children - threatening to stop certain services if the speaker's bill becomes law.
SDA clinic, in its letter, informs its patients that even before the passage of Terlaje's bill, the clinic will begin taking "actionable steps" to curtail its services. The clinic was not specific as to what services, nor did it give any timeline for the execution of its threat.
"Practically this means that some of our patients, possible you, might not be able to receive some of the highly complex care you need through the clinic," the letter reads. "Rather than providing this care at the Clinic, we are left with no other option to refer subspecialty care to specialists. For many of you, this will mean that you may have to travel off island several times every year to receive your specialty care."
Medical malpractice is what happens when a doctor treats a patient below the recognized standard of care.
"My bill does not change the standard of care at all," Ms. Terlaje said at today's news conference. "Whether poor people can access the justice system os what we're trying to accomplish with this bill."
As it stands, doctors are the only group of people on this island protected by the law from being sued for making mistakes out of malpractice or negligence. Unlike any other profession, a doctor's malpractice often means the maiming or killing of human life.
“I find it curious that such comments as what was in the SDA letter is that they’re going to stop doing certain services because of this fear of being sued because of this bill," attorney Robert Keogh told the legislature during an informational hearing Wednesday on the bill. "If you’re doing those services now, and you’re afraid of being sued for them, then those services are malpractice. The only reason you’re not being sued now is because it’s too expensive to do it. Doctors shouldn’t be doing services that constitute malpractice. Why would you stop doing something that you feel is right to do now, just because now somebody can bring a claim? It is a very curious comment.”
According to the American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 1.1.5, "Physicians’ fiduciary responsibility to patients entails an obligation to support continuity of care for their patients. At the beginning of patient-physician relationship, the physician should alert the patient to any foreseeable impediments to continuity of care."
The Code of Medical Ethics also states: "The relationship between a patient and a physician is based on trust, which gives rise to physicians’ ethical responsibility to place patients’ welfare above the physician’s own self-interest or obligations to others, to use sound medical judgment on patients’ behalf, and to advocate for their patients’ welfare."
According to the Code of Medical Ethics, patients have rights, including "To continuity of care. Patients should be able to expect that their physician will cooperate in coordinating medically indicated care with other health care professionals, and that the physician will not discontinue treating them when further treatment is medically indicated without giving them sufficient notice and reasonable assistance in making alternative arrangements for care."
This is a developing story, which will be continued this weekend.