Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Is a doctor negligent for advocating that people should be hungry all the time?

I will start covering medical malpractice in my torts class in a couple of days so I thought it would be relevant to post this story today.  It is a story about a physician - a cardiologist - who advocates patients to live on a diet based on how much their food weighs.  The story was reported back in June, but I just read about it for the first time today in a fellow law professor's blog.

The doctor's theories on managing weight became news when he was connected to the investigation of the death of a child.  According to news accounts, the child's mom, who was charged with murder for allegedly starving her teen daughter to death, was following the advice of the doctor who encourages people to eat just 32 ounces of food a day. The child, who was 15 or 16, weighed about 40 pounds.

In a video available in YouTube (and here and here), the doctor explains the "scientific" principles behind his theories saying that "being hungry is wonderful. The opposite of hungry, which is not hungry, is the opposite of wonderful, which is terrible."  He also claims to mathematically "prove" that being hungry is wonderful by explaining that "when we're 10 times hungrier, doesn't food tastes 10 times better? And when food tastes 10 times better, that's wonderful, isn't it?... It's a mathematical principle."

Well, there you have it! Who can argue against such scientific evidence, right?!

According to some accounts, the doctor has been called everything from "crazy" to a "caring" and "very educated" man whose findings are rooted in science and scripture.  Crazy? Nooo; really?  Who would think that?...  although I do find the suggestion of scientific findings rooted in science and scripture rather puzzling, to say the least.

OK; so here is the torts angle I would want my students to consider.  Let's assume the doctor actually suggests to a patient to go on a diet based on how much the food weighs, which, by the way, is what this doctor suggests.  His idea is not based on calories, but on actual weight.  Put your plate on a scale, fill it up until it weighs 2 pounds and that is all you get to eat all day.  Sure it is an easy diet to follow - if you have an accurate scale at home, I guess - but is it healthy?  Does this "medical advice" follow the standard of care of the profession?    And if it doesn't and a patient following the advice suffers an injury, could they bring a cause of action?

To complicate matters, what if the person is not an actual patient of the doctor but someone who read his book or his website and followed the advice published there (in print or online).  Can that person bring a claim?

Your thoughts?

For more details on this bizarre story go to ABC, The Daily Mail and The New York Daily News.

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