John Edwards Responds to 'Junk Science' Allegations

By Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - Sen. John Edwards, the North Carolina Democrat who's running for his party's presidential nomination, conceded that infant cerebral palsy usually is not the fault of the doctors who deliver the baby -- even though he argued otherwise in his days as a trial lawyer.

Edwards was responding to allegations first reported by on Jan. 20. The report noted that a large part of Edwards' legal career was based on "junk science," which allowed him to win hugely lucrative legal judgments or settlements against the medical profession.

According to the Saturday's New York Times, "...Mr. Edwards did not dispute the contention...that few cases of cerebral palsy are caused by mishandled deliveries." Edwards did say that during his legal career, he represented only the few cases that were the exceptions to the rule.

The outcome of those cases, many of them dealing with the debatable cause of cerebral palsy in infants, made Edwards a rich man, allowing him to self-finance a 1998 run for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina and position himself as a presidential candidate in 2004.

As reported on Jan. 20, Edwards won record jury verdicts and settlements by arguing that in certain cases, obstetricians and the hospitals where they practiced had been responsible for botching the treatment of women in labor and the delivery of their babies. It was that botched treatment, Edwards argued, that resulted in the infants sustaining either brain damage or developing cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is a brain disorder that causes motor function impairment and lifelong disability.

The report pointed to medical studies dating back to at least the 1980s which asserted that doctors could do very little to cause cerebral palsy during the birthing process. Two new studies in 2003 further undermined the scientific premise of the high-profile court cases won by Edwards.

Edwards now insists that the cerebral cases he represented were the exceptions.

"I took very seriously our responsibility to determine if our cases were merited," Edwards told the New York Times in an interview on Friday, just days after refusing to answer's questions on the same topic.

"Before I ever accepted a brain-injured child case, we would spend months investigating it," Edwards added.

The Times also noted that between 1985 and 1995, "Edwards filed at least 20 similar lawsuits against doctors and hospitals in deliveries gone wrong, winning verdicts and settlements of more than $60 million, typically keeping about a third. "

Dr. Murray Goldstein, a neurologist and the medical director of the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation, told that brain damage resulting from the techniques used in a delivery were possible, but "really unusual."

"The overwhelming majority of children that are born with developmental brain damage, the [obstetrician/gynecologist] could not have done anything about it, could not have, not at this stage of what we know," Goldstein said.

Eldon L. Boisseau of the Kansas-based firm Turner and Boisseau, which specializes in defending doctors' insurance companies from medical malpractice lawsuits, said he believed "junk science" was used by lawyers in cases similar to those Edwards argued during his legal career.

And while obstetricians were generally blameless in cerebral palsy cases, according to Boisseau, he said he believed there would be more legal judgments and settlements in the future similar to those Edwards had won during his legal career.

Some of Edwards' critics told that as a trial lawyer, Edwards relied more on his verbal skills than the latest scientific evidence to persuade juries that the doctors' mistakes had been instrumental in causing the cerebral palsy in the infants.

But last week, following his fourth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Edwards did not want to address the allegations. His campaign spokesmen also refused to comment on the issue prior to's publication of its Jan. 20 story.

"How do you respond to allegations that trial lawyers like yourself made a lot of money off cerebral palsy cases using 'junk science,' when scientific studies show that cerebral palsy isn't caused by botched deliveries?" asked Edwards last Tuesday night.

Edwards did not say a word, despite two more attempts to elicit a response. His aides intervened and moved the senator along.

See Earlier Article:
Did 'Junk Science' Make John Edwards Rich? (Jan. 1, 2004)

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