Withholding information

The Nevada Board of Medical Examiners once posted on its Web site information on medical malpractice lawsuits filed against Nevada doctors. But the board removed this information from its site in 2005.

Prompted in part by the wave of public outrage over southern Nevada’s endoscopy clinic crisis, Gov. Jim Gibbons called last month for that information to be restored.

Citing their conflicts of interest, the governor also called on three members of the Board — as well as Board Executive Director Tony Clark — to resign. But late last week, when the four refused to step aside, the governor backed down.

At a meeting of the Board last week, Board member Donald Baepler — possibly emboldened by the governor’s wavering on the resignations — proceeeded to challenge the governor’s instructions on posting the malpractice lawsuit information.

"The simple fact is most people do not understand malpractice lawsuits and settlements," Mr. Baepler said. "Many involve doctors who have done nothing wrong."

Late in his life, Thomas Jefferson addressed such concerns:

"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves," the author of the Declaration of Independence advised us. "And if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion."

If Mr. Baepler, who had some responsibility for elevating the discretion of the average Nevadan when he was at UNLV, believes the typical Nevadan too muddle-headed to understand such concepts as the presumption of innocence, would he also like to see such lawsuits removed from the realm of trial by jury?

Lawsuits once filed become public information. Once we start withholding from the public information which they "might misunderstand," where would the secrecy end?

To date, the governor’s handling of the endoscopy clinic crisis has exhibited much of the deftness of a panicked kitten trying to fight its way out of the wrong end of the paper bag.

But in this case, his first instinct was correct. Gov. Gibbons must remain firm in his demand that the board stop withholding such public information from the public.

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