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April 11, 1986

Death by Malpractice

Author Affiliations

San Francisco

JAMA. 1986;255(14):1927. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370140125038

It all began like so many other cases he had managed in his long career. The elderly patient had an incurable cancer, but required a minor surgical procedure to alleviate some troublesome symptoms. Everyone, including the patient, understood that the procedure was to be, at best, a palliative measure designed to make the patient's final few months a little more bearable. And he was a patient who remained as active as possible and who clung to life with all his might. He was blessed with a caring, loving family whose members were unanimous in requesting that the procedure be done. The tumor board recommended it. It was to be routine.

The surgeon took on the case as a favor to a colleague. He certainly did not need the work. At 63, he was trying to curtail his busy operating schedule. For 30 years he had been the busiest general surgeon