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Good Morning Doctor! - Chapter 48

The Expert Witness

Most doctors, at some time in their careers, have been called in as expert witnesses in court trials. I remember very vividly two such incidents: one in a friend's experience, one in my own.

This friend was an expert witness in a case in which a doctor was being sued for not operating. The expert was asked how many times he had had cases of the kind in question. He answered, "Three times. I operated on two.":

"And," said the attorney, did they recover?"

"Yes," my friend answered.

"Then why," continued the attorney who was trying to show that operation was the proper treatment, "didn't you operate on the third?"

"Because," my friend answered dryly, "at that time in the progression of the malady, the patient changed doctors."

I was called to a neighboring county to testify in a case of insanity. The facts presented were that the defendant, a man past middle life, a farmer who had always taken great pride in doing his work well, who was kind to his family, who was economical and frugal, had within the last number of weeks lost interest in his farm and in the manner in which his work was conducted, and was unreasonable with his family. His whole disposition was shown to have changed. Also, instead of being agreeable with his neighbors he was so unreasonable that he was having difficulty with them.

With that situation to consider, I was asked if the circumstances would indicate that the man was abnormal. I answered that I thought he was.

The attorney then said, "You base your opinion on the facts that this man changed in his attitude to his neighbors and his family and changed from being a man of good economical practice to one careless in financial matters?" I answered that I did.

He then said, "Well, doctor, following that line of reasoning, consider the case of a gentleman, well dressed and dignified in appearance and demeanor, walking along quietly, then suddenly dashing down the sidewalk and out into the middle of the street among moving vehicles, apparently heedless of what might happen to him. Because of that change in his conduct would you say that he was insane?"

"Quite the contrary," I answered. "The gentleman was probably chasing a new hat."

The cross questioning ceased at this point.

It just happened that the attorney who was cross questioning me was a friend of mine who had told me that very story himself only a few weeks before.

  Version: World Wide Web Edition Copyright 1995 by Richard Rathe
  Created: October 1, 1995   Modified: July 5, 1999

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