A former Republican congressman who says government doctors missed his pancreatic cancer is laying the groundwork to sue for medical malpractice.
Steven C. LaTourette, who represented Ohioans on Capitol Hill for nine terms, said he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year — two years after a doctor at George Washington University Hospital discussed the need for testing with a doctor from the Office of Attending Physician (OAP), which handles legislators’ health care. The GW physician had discovered a lesion in LaTourette’s pancreas.
Yet: “No follow-up studies were ordered or performed by any OAP physician, and Mr. LaTourette was never informed of the MRI results or recommendation for follow-up,” the former lawmaker claimed in court documents posted on the Cleveland.com Web site.
Though they have yet to file suit, LaTourette and his wife, Jennifer LaTourette, asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to allow him to give his testimony now, calling his diagnosis “grave.”
“Mr. LaTourette’s diagnosis carries with it a grim prognosis statistically, and he is likely to succumb to rapid physical and cognitive deterioration,” the petition read. “… It is highly unlikely that Mr. LaTourette will be able and/or available to provide deposition testimony in any action to be filed in the future.”
LaTourette’s attorney plans to videotape LaTourette’s deposition — but hopes his client will survive long enough to see his planned lawsuit’s outcome.
“Hopefully we’ll never need it,” LaTourette’s attorney, Patrick Regan, told Cleveland.com of the planned deposition. “Hopefully it will sit somewhere in cyberspace.”
LaTourette’s lawsuit does not fit into popular conceptions of congressional health care. As the debate over the Affordable Care Act unfolded in 2009, legislators against Obamacare were often singled out for the quality health care they allegedly enjoyed.
“Lawmakers also get special treatment at Washington’s federal medical facilities and, for a few hundred dollars a month, access to their own pharmacy and doctors, nurses and medical technicians standing by in an office conveniently located between the House and Senate chambers,” the Los Angeles Times wrote at the time. And in 2011, Roll Call called the OAP “a model of efficiency, according to staffers and Members who have sought treatment there.”
Yet the OAP has been sued before. In 1990, the widow of John East, a Republican senator from North Carolina, filed a lawsuit after East killed himself. She said a physician had failed to diagnose a thyroid problem that led to depression. (A court found that the OAP had not been negligent, according to Roll Call.)
LaTourette’s counsel was confident about the chances of success.
“Given what happened here, this was a pretty clear case of negligence by the health care professionals who were treating Mr. LaTourette,” Regan told Politico. “I expect there should be a serious effort from [the government] to see if they can’t resolve this case.”
In his final years in office and after his retirement, LaTourette was known as a centrist Republican unafraid of challenging more conservative House Republicans, whom he called “knuckledraggers.”
“Progressives may say they bemoan the ‘radicalism’ of the tea party, and tea party advocates may claim to despise the ‘tactics’ of liberals, but the truth is that both sides have abdicated the most basic responsibilities of elected officials,” he wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece after his retirement. “Both sides are complicit in creating an environment in which nothing can be accomplished.”