The recent refusal by the U.S. Supreme court to hear Witt v. United States reminded us of a disturbing fact of military life: servicemembers are unable to sue Department of Defense medical facilities and healthcare professionals for malpractice because of a ridiculous policy known as the Feres Doctrine.
In this case, the family of Air Force Staff Sergeant Dean Witt sued the government after he was left in a vegetative state caused by a gross medical error following an appendectomy in 2003. He later died after being removed from life support.
Abetted by the Feres Doctrine, military healthcare writ large is insulated against malpractice suits filed by patients or their survivors. The court’s decision to not hear the Witt case seems nonsensical as the Feres Doctrine treats servicemembers and their families differently from other Americans. In fact, even federal prisoners and illegal aliens have the right to sue for malpractice, yet servicemembers do not.