Do No Harm


Wal-Mart has announced that it is withdrawing it’s suit against the family that they sued (from the St. Louis Post-Dispatchlink).


The phrase “do no harm” does not appear to be in the Hippocratic Oath, though it does appear in Hippocrates writings.  Hippocrates wrote that a physician, when treating a patient, must have two objects in mind with regard to a disease, to do good or to do no harm.

There are a number of things we could say about this phrase and its application to the treatment of diseases but we will save that for another time.

Rather, I want to focus on some legal issues and wonder if that phrase should somehow be part of jurisprudence as well as part of medicine.

Consider the following case that was reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today (link):

  1. A woman was critically injured in a car accident eight years ago and suffered a brain injury that disabled her to the point that she was moved to a nursing home.
  2. The woman and her family received approximately $420,000 (after the deduction of assorted legal fees) in a legal settlement with the trucking company whose driver was involved in the car accident.  The money was put into trust for the woman’s care.
  3. Her medical bills, paid through health insurance provided by her employer, totaled approximately $470,000.
  4. Quoting the Post-Dispatch article, “As is common for employer-sponsored health plans, Shank’s insurance required full repayment of medical expenses if she received money from a lawsuit.”
  5. So, the woman’s employer sued the woman “out of fairness to everyone who contributes to the plan”.
  6. The case was appealed and the court ruled that the money must be paid to the company.  Note that the medical bills were greater than the settlement so the woman and her family must also pay some $50,000 out of their own pocket.
  7. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals let the ruling stand and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, thus affirming the original verdict.

Now, which is more important in this case and in other similar cases, that the law be upheld or the spirit of the law?  Should the principle of doing no harm also be the dictum for lawyers as well as doctors?  The money was awarded to the family for the woman’s care and was to be kept in trust (and thus could not be spent on other things).  Yet the company insists that their needs come before their former employer in order to be fair for all the employees.  I am sure that if you asked the employees that they would say that the money should go to the woman for her care.

Over the past eight years, we have heard the term “values” thrown about quite easily.  This is a case where we need to consider what values truly mean.  Jesus was rebuked by the Pharisees and scribes because He broke the law when He healed the sick on the Sabbath.  But He rightly pointed out that the person was more important than the law.  Is that not the case now?

There are some who say we have lost our moral direction.  I would think that when we put the needs of the company and its interests above the needs of the individual, we have lost our moral direction.


This is being cross-posted to

1 thought on “Do No Harm

  1. Pingback: RedBlueChristian » Blog Archive » Do No Harm

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