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Ethical Issues Related to Medical Expert Testimony

Hammond, Charles B. MD; Schwartz, Peter A. MD

doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000182587.83516.76
Current Commentary

The obstetrician-gynecologist who provides expert witness testimony is recognized as an important participant in the medical liability system. He or she must define a standard of care and opine whether the standard has been breached and whether any perceived injury was caused by the breach. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) ethical guidelines insist that the testimony be objective (free from intentioned distortion) and that the witness not assume an advocacy or partisan role. The ethical and professional boundaries of appropriate expert testimony as delineated by ACOG are more restrictive than the legal boundaries. Members of ACOG should be held to more restrictive ACOG guidelines and egregious testimony condemned by ACOG. Prospective peer review, increased judicial review, and testimony banks are other examples of methods to improve the quality of expert witness testimony. Alternatives to litigation for medical liability disputes and further tort reform might also make the system fairer and more sustainable.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has stringent requirements for fairness and accuracy in expert medical testimony; testimony is subject to review and sanctions by ACOG and other groups.

From 1 Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina; and 2 Reading Hospital, Reading, Pennsylvania.

See related ediorial on page 902.

Presented as the Irvin M. Cushner Memorial Lecture at the Annual Clinical Meeting of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in San Francisco, California, May 10, 2005.

Corresponding author: Charles B. Hammond, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Duke University Medical Center, PO Box 3853, Durham, NC 27710; e-mail:

© 2005 by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.