Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2004 / 11 Shevat, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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‘Special interests’

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | This election year we are sure to hear a lot about "special interests." Candidates of both major parties, as well as candidates of third or fourth parties, are sure to denounce special interests both hotly and repeatedly.

The secret of these verbal fireworks from all parts of the political spectrum is that only the groups supporting one's opponents are called special interests. Politicians do not call their own supporters special interests.

Therefore every candidate can be against special interests, and they differ only in how often and how loudly they say it — and in the particular groups to whom they apply that label.

When Senator John Kerry proclaimed stridently that no special interests will be allowed in the White House when he becomes president, he was saying something absolutely meaningless. No one welcomes special interests into the White House because those groups that presidents welcome are their own supporters, who are never called special interests.

When Senator Kerry gives examples of special interests, do not look to see the teachers unions included. When Senator Kerry votes against school vouchers, sacrificing the future of millions of children for the greater glory of the National Education Association, that is not called serving special interests because the NEA supports Democrats.

Still less will the trial lawyers be called special interests. Presidential candidate Senator John Edwards made his fortune as a trial lawyer, winning huge damage awards from doctors and hospitals, thereby contributing to the rising costs of medical care, which he now so much laments.

Over the years, trial lawyer John Edwards won more than $60 million in damage awards. Put differently, he alone added $60 million to the cost of medical care. Nor was he alone. Trial lawyers in general find a home in the Democratic Party, where its Congressional members fight against attempts at tort law reform that would cut back on frivolous lawsuits and astronomical damage awards that drive up the cost of medical care.

Doctors in certain specialties have fled states where juries readily succumb to emotional rhetoric from glib lawyers, granting jackpot damage awards that drive up medical malpractice insurance premiums by tens of thousands of dollars a year.

One of the hardest hit medical specialties has been obstetrics and one of the biggest hitters was a trial lawyer named John Edwards, now running for president. His specialty was arguing that brain-damaged babies were a result of a failure of doctors to use Caesarian section deliveries when electronic fetal monitors indicated problems.

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A tragically afflicted child and a lawyer skilled in playing on a jury's emotions added up to millions of dollars per case. It has also lead to an increase in the percentage of births done by Caesarian section from 6 percent of all births to 26 percent of all births.

This has done nothing to reduce the kinds of tragedies exploited by lawyers like John Edwards. A large study published last year by leading American medical authorities — and approved by medical authorities from as far away as Australia and New Zealand — found "the vast majority of brain damage and cerebral palsy" among newborn babies to be due to factors beyond the control of doctors or hospitals.

Far from making childbirth safer, the lucrative lawsuits have created new dangers. The additional Caesarian sections carry risks that any such major surgery does.

With many doctors now refusing to deliver babies and with obstetricians relocating out of states with huge damage awards and high malpractice insurance premiums, the net result is that many pregnant women in such places have a hard time finding doctors to give them prenatal care or to be available when their baby is ready to be born.

Since trial lawyers have no one to sue when these babies develop defects, this gets little publicity. And of course the trial lawyers will never be called special interests by Senator Edwards or by most other Democrats who get big campaign contributions from these lawyers' ill-gotten gains.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

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