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Having one's thumb on the scale can be the cause of an unfair result, or the way to make a skewed result more fair. Image by FOX 52, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Not according to Dr. Lars Aanning! In an article that he wrote was printed in The Yankton County Observer, and that was reprinted in the ProPublica Patient Safety Facebook group, he admitted that he had lied under oath on a witness stand to protect a colleague accused of medical malpractice.  Aanning is now 77 years of age and stated that he has become a patient safety advocate and assists a medical malpractice attorney. The perjury occurred almost 20 years ago. Aanning says the answer to “do expert doctor witnesses in malpractice lawsuits help?” is a resounding No.

Aanning stated in an NPR interview, that his reason for coming forward with that information now is to “give an explicit example of why you can’t always rely on physician testimony in court.” He went on to state that “looking to the legal system is like mixing oil and water.”  He finally admitted his lie because he does not fear repercussions, although he “can’t go to the clinic for any help” now.

Aanning committed the perjury because attorneys are viewed as a threat and, even if he believed that his colleague was guilty, he had a duty to protect and support him. It is the “cultural” attitude that he was used to. You don’t criticize and you stick together, especially against those unscrupulous attorneys. Guilt does not matter in the medical arena. It is like a bad movie where thugs band together and support each other regardless of what one of the other members do, including murder!

In the case he is referring to, according to Aanning’s article, a patient had postoperative complications and a permanent disability. He was called to testify to the expertise of his colleague. Although Aanning had questions about the colleague’s skill as a surgeon, he testified that he had none. In his article, Aanning stated “I wasn’t going to be a squealer—fat chance!” The patient apparently lost the lawsuit. Aanning said, in the NPR interview, that he hasn’t thought about that issue because it “would be painful” for him, especially if the case was lost because of his testimony.

Judge's gavel; image courtesy of keyword-suggestions.com
Judge’s gavel; image courtesy of keyword-suggestions.com

So are we to believe that since he is retired and has publicly stated that he regrets his action, that he is now believable. He apparently assists a medical malpractice attorney – wonder if it is an attorney that represents physicians or one that represents patients. In the end, does it matter! He has readily admitted that physicians will go to great lengths, including perjury, to protect fellow physicians.

If Aanning’s article and his statements during the interview are any indication, this was not a one off. This kind of behavior is rampant in the medical community. He stated in his article that his bottom line was “My bottom line: Employment contracts usually hold physicians loyal to the organization, and should be recognized by the legal system as barriers to honest testimony by a physician’s colleagues, even if sworn on the Bible. Harmed patients seeking legal redress, and jurors in a malpractice trial, should be aware of this dishonest behavior—and our legal system should never allow such charades.” How does one stop the “charades”?

Sources

ProPublica Patient Safety

NPR

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