Panel Hears of Fatal Medical Errors

The alarming frequency with which medical mistakes kill or gravely injure Americans was brought home to a congressional panel yesterday as victims and their families told horror stories of treatment errors in hospitals and demanded new safeguards.

A report released earlier this month by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that fatal mistakes cause 44,000 to 98,000 deaths each year in America's health care system, galvanizing Congress and the Clinton administration.

With spiraling medical costs and increasingly sophisticated treatment, the public has reacted with outrage to the report that more Americans die from medical errors than the roughly 17,000 who die each year of AIDS. There are even indications that the report may not have sounded the alarm as loudly as it could have. "In fact, the IOM estimates that medical errors could be the eighth-leading cause of death in this country," John Eisenberg, director of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, told the Senate panel.

China Trade Vote May Be Delayed

A key U.S. lawmaker said a vote in Congress on a landmark trade agreement with China may be postponed until June or later while Beijing completes the process of joining the World Trade Organization.

The delay could undermine support for the market-opening agreement, as Congress and the White House dig in for the 2000 elections. The trade pact is already under fire from human rights activists who want Beijing to commit to reform and from U.S. union leaders who worry that a flood of cheap Chinese imports would put Americans out of work.

"The target date [for a vote] is late spring, early summer, and the closer you get to the election the more potentially political it can become, and that's not a good thing," said Rep. Philip M. Crane (R-Ill.).

Clinton Signs Sweepstakes Law

President Clinton signed into law a measure designed to protect people, especially the elderly, from sweepstakes scams, saying "too often, mailing and sweepstakes practices seem designed to mislead."

The Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act bars sponsors from implying that buying products can increase entrants' chances of winning big prizes.

"This legislation will protect Americans against those who use sweepstakes and mailings to deceive and exploit the unwary," Clinton said. "It will establish standards for sweepstakes mailings, skill contests and facsimile checks."

Dam Removal Occurs at Faster Pace

Dam removal in the United States is happening at a faster rate than previously thought, according to a study released by three environmental groups.

Some 465 dams have been taken down mostly in the 1980s and '90s, said the report by Friends of the Earth, American Rivers and Trout Unlimited.