Friday, September 02, 2005

Reparing the Irreparable

Last week, a large, bold CNN headline read: Bush: Response 'not acceptable'. Yet, a review of the transcript of Bush's comments shows that he said no such thing. After commending the efforts of those who have assisted in responding to Hurricane Katrina, Bush said that the results -- not the response -- were unacceptable.

In the haste to pass judgment in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, CNN is not alone in ignoring the distinction between the relief effort and the results of that effort. Pundits have presumed that the unacceptable results mean that the response, itself, merits criticism. Yet, unless another relief effort could have achieved acceptable results, this reasoning is invalid.

The belief that a procedure's unacceptable results justifies criticism of the procedure plagues medical malpractice litigation. Successful plaintiffs' attorneys persuade jurors to blame doctors for any failure to restore a patient to health, no matter how sick the patient, and no matter how unlikely it would have been to restore the patient's health.

Hurricane Katrina has left the Gulf Coast devastated. The thousands of relief workers who have rushed to the region face a task that is as monumental as it is unprecedented. At this point, no response effort would have restored health to the region. Yet, just as juries often blame doctors for failing to cure the incurable, pundits are now blaming the response for failing to repair the irreparable.

Ultimately, we may determine that human error has exacerbated the region's suffering. But, in making that determination, we will have to rely on more than the suffering itself.


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