letter To Sunday Times on - 9/5/2004

Andrea Massa case
Dr Martin Balzan, general secretary, the Medical Association of Malta, Gzira.

The Sunday Times has recently carried a number of articles and letters with reference to the most unfortunate case of the late Andrea Massa where negligence has been repeatedly insinuated, and alleged.

MAM would like to point out that an internal inquiry by the Health Division (held by an independent panel of experts) and a review of the case by the Attorney-General (after a magisterial inquiry) found no grounds for the said allegation.

For this reason the claims of a "cover-up" are most unjust and completely unwarranted. The AG in his report gave clear legal reasons for his decision, and to the points raised by the inquiring magistrate.

The Sunday Times now seems to have embarked on a "trial by media" on the case. This is unprecedented in Maltese journalistic history and indeed not compatible with the high ethical journalistic standards the readers of The Sunday Times are accustomed to.

It is a great pity that your newspaper chose to wage such a "witch-hunt" against esteemed members of the profession and indeed against an institution which is providing highly valued (locally and internationally) essential services to the community.

Without going into the merits of the case, it is not unusual for doctors to have to deal with very serious and complicated cases. The truth is that even in this day and age we cannot win all battles against disease. However it is not acceptable that when there is an unexpected or adverse outcome the doctor or the system have to take the blame. Society rightly expects doctors to do their best. But let us be clear: there are diseases and situations which can defeat our best knowledge and best intentions.

MAM believes there is no room for negligence in medical practice and that doctors must be accountable for their actions. However, once a doctor is cleared of these charges, MAM cannot but condemn those who fail to accept the outcome.

In conclusion MAM would like to show the deepest sympathy to Andrea's parents for the great loss they have suffered. The parents have raised their doubts, and two autonomous public authorities have reached the same conclusion that there was no negligence in this case. The matter should now be considered closed.

Editor's note
Whether one article, reporting a press statement by Andrea Massa's parents (April 25), and one letter (May 2) about the case (another report had been published some months ago) amount to a "witch-hunt" and a "trial by media", as Dr Balzan hyperbolically puts it, we leave readers to judge.

The parents are insisting on an inquiry to remove "any suspicion" of a cover-up, and their intention - conveyed in the article of April 25 - is to learn from the experience and reform the system, if necessary, in order to avoid an unfortunate recurrence.

There is no doubt that the medical profession is giving utterly dedicated, sterling service to the community, for which we should all be grateful, but mistakes can and do happen. The important thing is to identify them and learn from them.

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