Let us understand this: The vice president continued to see a physician knowing that the doctor had a drug addiction [front page, July 8].

Did he have no care, in this age of terrorism, that the doctor might pose a national security risk?

Vice President Cheney's health is not a personal matter. To risk medical incompetence is bad enough, but addicts in such positions pose many threats: blackmail, theft, carelessness.

Let's be frank. Men with advanced degrees are called "addicts"; those of lesser means are called "junkies."

This was highly irresponsible on the part of the vice president.

MARTY GOLDEN

Bath, Maine

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It was ironic that the story about Vice President Cheney's doctor having a drug problem and a story about the issue of tort reform in the presidential campaign appeared on the same day ["Internist's Relapse Into Drug Use Undetected; Cheney Was Aware of His Doctor's Problem," front page; "Edwards Brings Lawyer Support; Millions Were Raised From Firms," news story, July 8].

The article on Mr. Cheney's internist made it clear that doctors are not able to police themselves for a variety of reasons, chief among them their willingness to give other doctors the benefit of the doubt when they shouldn't.

The vice president is lucky, however, because his course of treatment is not determined by one drug-addled doctor; he has a team of doctors to make certain that he receives the best treatment. The "team" approach to medical care, however, is not available to ordinary citizens.

Meanwhile, the president is pushing for tort reform, even though his own vice president's experience demonstrates that doctors make mistakes -- sometimes repeated and egregious mistakes. The vice president's experience also shows that when some doctors have to choose between protecting a patient and protecting one of their own, they don't always choose the patient.

The only thing that makes the case of Gary Malakoff unusual is that he had extensive oversight and intervention, and that even with that attention, his problems persisted for an extended period and he was still allowed to practice medicine.

If doctors were to reform the practice of medicine, tort reform would be unnecessary.

LESLIE STAHLHUT

Wilson, N.C.