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Phil Matier: Jahi McMath Case Now At Center Of Malpractice Campaign

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old girl who was declared brain-dead after a tonsillectomy at Children's Hospital Oakland, has become the centerpiece of a political fundraising effort.

Andrew Ross and I reported in our column in the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday that Consumer Watchdog, a Southern California nonprofit that has teamed up with the state's trial lawyers on a proposed November ballot initiative to lift state's $250,000 cap for pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases.

Phil Matier: Political Fundraising In The Wake Of The Jahi McMath Case

They just sent out a mailer to supporters saying, "Hospitals like Children's actually have an incentive to let children like Jahi die." Because, they argue, if children are injured and stay on life support for years, it will cost hospitals more.

It's cold-hearted, but no sooner than the ambulance pulled out of Children's Hospital, the mailer was sent to raise money get the message out to supporters of the initiative.

The Consumer Watchdog used to be known as the Foundation For Tax Payers And Consumer Rights and makes money every year from intervener fees. Under Proposition 103—the insurance initiative that was passed in 1988 that let's public organizations intervene on rate setting—they are able to operate.

The bottom line is that Jahi McMath's predicament is being used as a pea in big political shell game and we'll probably hear more about it as the campaign heats up.

Christopher Dolan, who is the McMath's family attorney and has been working pro bono, is past president and a current board member of Consumer Attorneys of California, the prime group funding the ballot initiative to lift the limit on pain and suffering awards.

But I've spoken with Dolan and I think his motives are sincere—he believes in this case. He told me that even he thinks that this mailer being sent out now is over the top and in bad taste. But let's face it—there is big money down the line if these issues change. Hospitals have a lot at stake and Children's Hospital Oakland will find itself front and center in the campaign, if there is one, for this measure.

It wasn't a question of if it would happen; it was a question of when.

It's not that shocking that this is how things have evolved; what's shocking is the timing and the unabashed crassness of it all.

(Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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