Source: Case and Comment
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “McKinley’s Doctors”
Date of publication: January 1902
Volume number: 8
Issue number: 8
|“McKinley’s Doctors.” Case and Comment Jan. 1902 v8n8: p. 232.|
|McKinley physicians (payment); William McKinley (medical care); William McKinley (medical care: criticism).|
|Ida McKinley; William McKinley.|
The claim that the government ought to pay a
large sum of money to the doctors who were in attendance upon President McKinley
at the time of his death has been made with considerable earnestness. One or
more of these physicians, as reported by the press, has talked somewhat volubly
about the justice of the claim, as if the government were under a strong moral,
if not legal, obligation to pay the demand. It is, of course, obvious that there
is not the slightest shadow of reason for asserting any legal obligation, and
there is little more to support a moral obligation.
The chief reason advanced in favor of an alleged moral obligation is that the physicians are entitled to so great a sum of money that the estate of the deceased President ought not to be subjected to its payment, and therefore the government ought to pay it. It is contended that in taking charge of the case under circumstances which focused the attention of the whole people upon them they ran the risk of great injury to their reputation in case they were unsuccessful, and therefore ought to have compensation in proportion to the risk. But, on the other hand, the opportunity to gain great prominence and reputation in case of success would induce any skilful [sic] physician to accept the responsibility, and be glad to do it. It does not appear that any of these physicians were reluctant to take the case. It may well be doubted if there is one of them that would not have been glad to take the case without any compensation whatever, not merely from patriotic motives, but for the advancement of his own professional interests.
There can be only one respectable reason for the payment of these physicians by the government. That is to relieve Mrs. McKinley from any burden or anxiety with respect to their claim. That is to say, the obligation, if any, is solely toward her, and not at all toward the physicians.
The amount to which the physicians in this case are entitled is a question on which opinions will differ very widely. There is nothing in the result of their work to entitle them to any extraordinary sum. The President’s death may not have been due to their fault, but it cannot be denied that they were lamentably ignorant of his condition until a short time before he died. Their bulletins had given the country reason to believe, and incontestably showed their own belief, that the President was on the high road to recovery. On their assurances the Vice President and members of the cabinet had dispersed in the confident belief that the President was nearly, if not quite, out of danger. If it were possible that the fatal work was going on so secretly in the President’s wounded body that physicians of proper skill could not detect it, they ought at least to have known of that possibility. That they erred in supposing that the President was well enough to take solid food also seems to be clear. The best that can be said of them on this point seems to be that this error did not contribute to the fatal result. But in any view of the case there is no escape from the conclusion that for a considerable period they were completely deceived by the President’s apparent improvement, and entirely ignorant of the fatal processes that were at work and rapidly bringing him nearer to death. Under these circumstances, while it may be proper for the government to appropriate a moderate sum of money to compensate these physicians, in order to relieve Mrs. McKinley from any liability to them, it would seem most becoming to them to be very modest in their claims.