World and Nation

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Court Ruling Blocks Suits Against Medical Device Makers

On the same day last month that a federal judge in St. Paul threw out hundreds of lawsuits against the maker of a faulty heart device, a man entered a nearby hospital to have one of those flawed products surgically removed.

The risky operation went terribly wrong. As doctors extracted the device, a thin electronic cable, from the patient’s heart, a vessel was punctured, causing extensive bleeding. The 33-year-old patient, Mark Turnidge, died two days later, leaving behind a wife and two young sons.

“They told me he had suffered massive brain damage,” said his wife, Wendy Turnidge.

She is considering suing the doctors, as well as the device’s maker, Medtronic, which she said bore blame for her husband’s death. But a Supreme Court decision last year stands as a barrier against suing medical device companies — an obstacle that some members of Congress want to remove.

At issue is a February 2008 court ruling that barred patients or their survivors from suing makers of complex medical devices — like the Medtronic product — if the Food and Drug Administration has approved their sale. Since that ruling judges nationwide, including the one in St. Paul, have cited it to dismiss cases against a wide range of manufacturers, including Medtronic. The most recent dismissal was Feb. 17, by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Boy, 9, Enters a Guilty Plea In 2 Killings in Arizona

A 9-year-old Arizona boy who admitted fatally shooting his father and another man last November pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of negligent homicide.

Under the terms of the plea, the boy will remain in the custody of the state until he is 18. He will undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he should be placed in a juvenile detention center in Apache County, where the crime occurred; in a therapeutic facility; in a foster home or with his mother, who is divorced from the boy’s father.

Lawyers for the county promised not to seek to commit the boy to a state juvenile facility or to file additional criminal charges against him stemming from the killings. If the boy is not convicted of any other crimes before he turns 18, the county will expunge his juvenile record.

Shortly after the boy’s father, Vincent Romero, 29, and the other man, Timothy Romans, 39, were found shot to death on Nov. 5 at the Romero home in St. Johns, Ariz., the boy confessed to shooting both men at point-blank range with a hunting rifle his father had given him as a birthday present.

But neither a defense lawyer nor a guardian was present when the confession was videotaped, and the county prosecutor was criticized for saying he planned to try the boy as an adult.

Republicans Hail Parts of Bill That Few of Them Supported

Republican lawmakers nearly unanimously resisted supporting the president’s $787 billion stimulus package, but what has proved irresistible is the temptation to take credit for at least a few of those billions.

Despite criticizing the bill as wasteful, a handful of Republican members of the House and Senate have found some provisions to cheer.

Just hours after voting against the bill on the House floor last week, Rep. John L. Mica of Florida issued news releases lauding the inclusion of $8 billion for high-speed rail projects around the nation. Mica said the bill would also help pay for a commuter train project in his Central Florida district.

“If we could put a man on the moon, we should be able to move people from city to city quickly instead of wasting time on a congested highway,” said Mica, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I applaud President Obama’s recognition that high-speed rail should be part of America’s future.”

Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called the unlikely chorus of praise from Mica and other Republican lawmakers “the height of hypocrisy.”

Health Care Industry in Talks to Shape Policy

Since last fall, many of the leading figures in the nation’s long-running health care debate have been meeting secretly in a Senate hearing room. Now, with the blessing of the Senate’s leading proponent of universal health insurance, Edward M. Kennedy, they appear to be inching toward a consensus that could reshape the debate.

Many of the parties, from big insurance companies to lobbyists for consumers, doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, are embracing the idea that comprehensive health care legislation should include a requirement that every American carry insurance.

While not all industry groups are in complete agreement, there is enough of a consensus, according to people who have attended the meetings, that they have begun to tackle the next steps: How to enforce the requirement for everyone to have health insurance; how to make insurance affordable to the uninsured; and whether to require employers to help buy coverage for their employees.

The talks, which are taking place behind closed doors, are unusual. Lobbyists for a wide range of interest groups — some of which were involved in defeating national health legislation in 1993-94 — are meeting with the staff of Kennedy, D-Mass., in a search for common ground.

Kennedy is fighting brain cancer, and participants in the talks said his illness had added urgency to the discussions.