Lawyers are in charge of reforming health care

MIKE ROYKO

April 19, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

One of the things that irks physicians about President Clinton is that they are being kicked around by lawyers.

As one family doctor said to me: "They get together in Washington, all those lawyers. And they are going to decide how I do my job. Imagine that -- the profession that earned the title of 'ambulance chasers' -- and they are saying I am one of the bad guys. What a joke."

There is little love lost these days between doctors and lawyers. Especially on the part of the doctors.

In recent days, I've talked to, or read mail from, hundreds of physicians in different parts of the country.

And if there is anything they resent, it is that Clinton, a lawyer, and his wife, a lawyer, would put together a policy group loaded with lawyers to shape the future of medical care in America.

"We are not perfect," one doctor said. "But we are one heck of a lot closer to being perfect than lawyers.

"Look at your legislative bodies, whether it is the Chicago City Council, the state legislature, or the Congress of the United States.

"Check to see how many doctors are making the stupid laws and sucking the income of America's achievers so they can spread that money around and buy the votes of the losers, who are in a much bigger voting bloc. Then check to see how many lawyers are making these laws.

"You want a fascinating column? Do a study on how many corrupt doctors have been sent to prison the past few years compared to the number of lawyers.

"Why don't you do it?"

Thank you for the suggestion, but that would be a socially and professionally hazardous assignment.

It happens that a few of my closest friends are lawyers. And a few of my closest friends are doctors.

I know lawyers who are scrupulously honest and competent. I know a couple of doctors who border on sainthood.

My guess is that most lawyers are decent people. So are most doctors.

So if I were foolish enough to try to determine which is the nobler profession, I would wind up -- to use a Chicago phrase -- "in the trick bag."

But as Zorba the Greek said: Without a little madness, you aren't living. So I will go out on the limb.

OK, which profession is more corrupt? No contest. It's the lawyers. It isn't even a footrace.

In Chicago, where I live and work, we've heard lawyers testify about how they fixed cases. And not some cheap traffic raps, although they have fixed thousands of those. They dropped wads of cash on corrupt judges to give a pass to murderers.

So many Chicago judges and their lawyer-fixers have been sent to federal prison, we almost had a shuttle bus running between here and the federal pokey.

These are the most disgusting public officials imaginable. It's one thing for a low-level pothole inspector to take a few dollars from an asphalt contractor.

It's something else for a well-educated lawyer, fortunate to become a judge, to sneak around the courtroom hallways, looking for payoffs.

Let us jump to Washington. There we find attorney Clark Clifford, the wise, white-haired, revered adviser to presidents, now accused of being a front man in one of the biggest bank swindles in history.

The only difference between Clark Clifford and dozens of other high-powered Washington lawyers is that he has been caught.

Washington is filled with lawyers who charge enormous fees to pick up a phone and call a friend in government on behalf of a client. In crude, local, back room politics, that would be known as putting in the fix. In Washington, it is called lobbying. Same thing, except there it is legal and it costs more.

Maybe it is the nature of the work. Under our laws, everybody is entitled to the best defense they can get. Or buy.

So lawyers can justify their successful defense of the most disgusting thieves, swindlers, creeps, degenerates and fiends by saying they were merely doing their jobs.

And the widow of the victim sits there weeping.

There are lawyers who make many millions of dollars more than any surgeon by persuading a jury that a brawny thief who beat up an old man on a subway deserves enormous damages because the mugger was mistreated when a cop shot him when he tried to run away. True story.

There are lawyers who would say Jack the Ripper was just doing research to get an A in Anatomy I.

But at the same time, the majority of lawyers are just earning a living by doing a decent job closing on a house, writing a will, helping with taxes, or getting your goofy kid out on bond.

It is the nature of the legal profession. Lawyers are exposed to more temptation than the rest of us. Being human, some become corrupt.

Even worse, the nature of their professional training draws them to politics, which can turn an Eagle Scout into a pimp.

So, doctors or lawyers -- where does that leave us?

Well, if you insist, a judge will allow you to defend yourself.

But there is no way a hospital will let you take out your own appendix.

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