Body parts & body politic — Don't let lawmakers sell cheap

Expanded from the 7-21-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

I'm gonna lay off Gov. Dudley Do-Right this week. We need to cut the guy some slack. Two weeks ago, I printed an in-depth psychological profile which concluded that he is possessed of a passive personality. He thus feels compelled to appoint study committees which labor for years, covering well-trodden ground and categorizing the obvious. Kenny Guinn is a catatonic kinda guy.

Read more about the malpractice fiasco at Sen. Joe Neal's website.

Just as he has shilly-shallied for four years on tax reform, he predictably vacillated on the southern Nevada health care crisis. When Clark County-owned University Medical Center suffered a doctors strike, necessitating the closure of Nevada's only level one trauma center, Guinn refused to use his broad emergency powers to keep the facility open. Instead, he announced that he would call a special legislative session and told the doctors and lawyers to be ready with a solution.

Showing who's really boss, Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, told Guinn to have the session begin on July 29 so that it would not interfere with Raggio's vacation scheduled the following week. Ironically, that's that same day Raggio's number two, Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, is due in court to face misdemeanor charges.

The Las Vegas trauma center has now temporarily reopened after a few doctors agreed that the state malpractice liability limit of $50,000 per case would indeed apply to them. The legal issues have not changed in a couple of weeks, which means the doctors could have avoided the closure by agreeing to become part-time Clark County employees, thus triggering the state coverage.

Strikes work, especially when the governor doesn't. The physicians have forced a special legislative session just to hear their gripes. This all began when a Minnesota malpractice insurance company decided to double its rates after losing a lot of money in the stock market.

Nevada media apparently have lousy clip files. The same thing happened about 10 years ago when a phony crisis was triggered by...drum roll, please...a Minnesota malpractice insurer. It made national news and ABC's Nightline did an entire show on it. These guys were gaming the system before Enron did the same with power rates, but no one seems to remember that recent history.

The doctors want the legislature to impose a malpractice liability cap of $250,000 per case. Trial lawyers understandably oppose. Gov. Guinn is not to be blamed. He is psychologically incapable of anything but intellectual and political paralysis, so I've come up with a solution for him.

Taking the doctor's liability limit as the top number, the warring parties need to develop a rate sheet to show Nevada consumers just what they are worth dead or alive.

Since the stock market crashed, life is arguably the most precious thing we possess. Only life itself thus deserves top value. This means that bodily parts or loss of functions should be priced lower on the visceral totem total.

The next most sensitive area is probably a tie between sex and sight. After all, some people still believe that sex can cause blindness. In the case of syphilis, the superstition is absolutely true.

So let's assign the same price to loss of pupils or penis, say $200,000 per. Losing one eye is thus worth $100k. I think it fair to use the same standard for loss of any of the five senses. Loss of hearing in one ear gets you a hundred grand. Major organs could be measured against that standard.

The only exception to the sliding scale should be brain damage. Lawmakers can equitably split the price differential between seeing-eye sex and death at $225,000.

This really makes life hard on some poor lout who loses an arm or leg because a doctor screws up. Most of us have four major limbs, so logically a leg or arm is only worth about $50,000.

Would you sell your arm for that price?

Which brings up a related issue. Stocks may be clawed by the bear, but the international market for body parts remains absolutely bullish. The legislature should thus fix base prices for those who want to sell their spares on eBay. Legalizing body brokerage could be just the thing to diversify Nevada's economy as our gambling corporations increasingly invest in California to our local detriment.

Conservatives are entirely correct that the free market develops a price for any and every thing. Every so often, you see a newspaper story asserting that your body is worth something like $1.98 when reduced to basic chemicals. Not true anymore. Just like your car, your carcass is worth more as parts than it is whole. Even allowing for a lifetime of depreciation, a wreck of a body brings about $100,000 on the current cadaver exchange.

We stand at the threshold a major new capitalistic era if the legislature will just take the bull market by the horns. By the time Bill Raggio goes on vacation, we could all know our true value: $250,000 max if dead by accident, $100,000 at the Ted Williams wrecking yard.

If all that sounds too cheap, so what? Those who run our lives don't seem to care anymore. We've reduced our meat inspection standards to a point where hamburger is now deadly. Lax regulation has us figuratively and literally swallowing bullshit.

If we are disposable citizens, the least that our government can do is provide us with a decent, marketable salvage value in the finest entrepreneurial and manurial tradition.

Is this a great country or what?

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors


© 2002 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 33-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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