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Thursday, June 7, 2007

The T.B. lawyer and taking responsibility

I heard the much vilified "tuberculosis lawyer" was going to be on Larry King last night, so I tuned in to see him. (I am talking, of course, about Andrew Speaker, the 31-year-old Atlanta personal injury lawyer with T.B. who went on his European honeymoon and then flew back to the U.S. before going into quarantine.) Nobody really comes off looking good in this one.

Health authorities are scurrying to cover their you-know-whats after not taking serious enough action to get him not to fly and not adequately apprising him of the risks. (Please don't go just doesn't cut it.) On the other hand, Speaker does not come off looking good either. Would you fly to Europe if you knew you were carrying T.B. and had to go to a special world-renowned treatment center in Denver in a few weeks? I think a suggestion from health authorities that I not do so would be sufficient for me.

Then you have the odd situation of Speaker's father -- also a lawyer -- tape recording their conversations with health authorities. It turns out maybe it was a good thing he did, since some of what those authorities told Congress about the warnings they allegedly gave Speaker appears to be inconsistent with what's on the tape. Then again, why was the father doing the taping in the first place if he didn't think his son flying might present these kinds of issues later? His explanation to Larry King that he doesn't hear well and likes to record conversations to listen to later does not seem very plausible.

Then you can add to the mix the fact that Speaker's new father-in-law is a microbiologist for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention who works on T.B.! He told the media in the press conference that the strain of T.B. his son-in-law has absolutely nothing to do with his work on T.B. at the CDC. (Read as also covering his you-know-what, and the CDC's to boot ...)

Then you have the border inspector who let Speaker back into the country despite a warning that came up on the computer telling him not to do so. The head of the union representing border agents has said "public health issues were not receiving adequate attention and training" within the agency.

My point here is that everyone seems so busy trying to cover themselves, that no one seems interested in taking any responsibility. That is what gets folks so upset with lawyers and the legal system today.

1 comment:

Apex DBS said...

I blogged about this incident last night at apexdbs.blogspot.com. I am an epidemiologist, and while I agree that Mr. Speaker acted irresposibly, what I find even more disturbing is the fact that his HIPAA rights were totally ignored, and no one is talking about that part of the situation. These sorts of things happen every day, and those of us in public health have to handle them. But none of us should know who this man is, or the details of his medical information. That is what the Privacy Rule is supposed to protect against.