Sunday, March 29, 2009

No Chopper For Natasha Richardson?

Eve Fairbanks is skeptical about efforts to blame Natasha Richardson's death on the Canadian medical system:
A trauma helicopter might have helped Richardson, but on the flip side, in the United States such helicopters are generally way overused, in part because they're profit makers and because the burden of their costs is distributed in such a way that it isn't appropriately felt: This past September, a Medevac chopper crashed in Maryland, killing three personnel (including one ambulance volunteer, a gig I've done) and one of the two wounded girls it was transporting from the scene of a car crash. Both girls originally had non-life-threatening injuries. "We've just gotten into a situation here in the United States where we think that the helicopters are a panacea," an emergency medicine researcher told the press after the accident. The September crash, sort of the reverse image of the Richardson incident, could be considered an event in which the overabundance of medical equipment killed.
That's sort of a creepy argument. Before we argue, as Fairbanks does, that trauma helicopters aren't worth the risk, we would need to see a comparison of the number of operators and passengers killed in such accidents compared to lives saved when patients get to trauma centers in time.

It's hard to believe that Fairbanks doesn't assume, as I do, that more people are saved than killed by trauma choppers. In our safety-obsessed culture, are we actually beginning to be open to the idea that the appropriateness of any job that entails risk -- firefighter? police officer? soldier? -- is open to debate?

Either that, or Fairbanks is echoing the utilitarian argument about expensive medical measures that always seems to come up in debates about nationalized health care. Ultimately, such a system's rules, rather than the market and the availability of insurance, end up deciding who gets treated and when. As for Fairbanks, she doesn't like trauma choppers not only because they occasionally crash but also because they make their owners money and sometimes transport patients who turn out not to have needed them (even though, as my grandmother used to say, better safe than sorry).

Back to the real question: Did Richardson get all the care and attention she and anyone would have deserved in her situation? I didn't know there was any question.

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