In September 1896 a young lad fell out of a tree, breaking a bone in his forearm. Luckily, a neighbour in Smiths Falls, Ont., a town near Ottawa, was a doctor who set the arm in padded splints and was able to check his work frequently. But the boy and his parents did not follow the doctor's instructions and complications resulted in the boy losing the use of his thumb.
The boy's father sued the doctor for negligence.
The court decided in favour of the doctor but the decision was twice appealed – on points of law, not medicine. The doctor won each time but could not claim expenses from the plaintiff because he was, in the vernacular of the day, "worthless." In the end the doctor's legal bills would have been his financial ruin had not the doctor's colleagues taken up a collection to assist him.
And so, the movement to create a new association of physicians — the Canadian Medical Protective Association — was born.
Negligence or error?
What constitutes negligence on the part of a physician? That age-old question pits doctor against patient in a court of law, in a situation both would prefer to avoid. Doctors, being human, may err; patients are the victims of such misfortune. When this happens it is only fair that patients receive compensation. That has been the position of the CMPA since it was founded more than 110 years ago. Most bad medical outcomes do not result from negligence or lack of skill. In these cases the CMPA has always taken the position that the doctor's professional integrity should be defended.
In 1896 a doctor faced financial and professional ruin when a patient was dissatisfied. Today doctors have protection.
The story of the CMPA
The story of the CMPA is one of doctors assisting each other when their professional integrity is threatened. It is also the story of new technologies, techniques, drugs and treatments, of changing legal attitudes and precedents, and of shifting societal values affecting a doctor's practice.
It is the story of compensating patients when errors have occurred. The story describes the CMPA's profound influence on the practice of medicine – informing and teaching physicians about the risks of medical procedures and of practice in general, and ways to mitigate those risks to provide safer patient care.
Mainly it's a story about the people in a caring profession striving to share the best possible medical care with Canadians. It's a story told with pride in past achievements and anticipation of continuing support to physicians that will ultimately benefit their patients.
To commemorate the CMPA's centennial anniversary in 2001, a retrospective of the Association's beginnings and a century of evolution was published. A physician's foresight, a profession's pride is available on request from the CMPA.