Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When Law Meets Medicine

Encouraging news continues to be published about U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the intended target of the January 8 assassination attempt at a Safeway supermarket in Tuscon, Arizona. Giffords was critically injured in the attack, along with thirteen bystanders. Six other victims were killed, including U.S. District Court Judge John Roll (FJC biography) and nine-year-old Christina Green, who had come to the Representative’s “Congress on Your Corner” event to learn more about the political process. (Read NY Times profiles of the victims here). The alleged shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, faces several federal charges related to the attempted murder of Rep. Giffords and the murders of a Giffords staffer and Judge Roll (read the federal filing); state charges are in the works for the deaths and injuries of the other victims.

Amazingly, Rep. Giffords survived the shooting, despite receiving a gunshot wound to the head at point-blank range. Barely a week after the attack, one of her neurosurgeons expressed “100 percent” certainty that the Congresswoman will recover, an astonishing confidence given the nature of her injuries. Her condition was recently upgraded to “good,” and she was transferred to a rehabilitation center in Houston last week to begin several weeks of physical therapy.

Thanks to the frequent news conferences and articles about the Representative’s progress, many have learned a great deal about neurosurgery and brain injuries over the last few weeks. The Giffords case is a reminder that while most legal researchers don’t typically have formal training in medicine, they sometimes have a need to learn more about diagnoses, injuries, and medical terminology. A number of resources are available to help legal researchers understand complex medical issues.

The Goodson Law Library’s reference collection includes a few medical texts, like Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, the DSM-IV-TR (the current handbook of psychiatric disorders), and the Physicians’ Desk Reference (PDR) (a handbook of prescription drug labeling information, including details about side effects). Duke researchers also have access to a number of books, e-books, and journals through the Medical Center Library, whose “Resources by Topic” page includes subject guides which should probably be consulted early in the research process.

However, Law School researchers have access to a few other sources, which are intended specifically for use by legal professionals. LexisNexis offers The Attorney’s Dictionary of Medicine, a dictionary for lawyers which defines nearly 60,000 medical terms. This title and other basic medical texts (like the DSM-IV and the PDR) can be found under the Legal tab by following the path: Reference > Medical. Another major medical work for attorneys, Lawyers’ Medical Cyclopedia, can be found under the path: Area of Law - By Topic > Health Care > Find Health Care Analytical Sources > Matthew Bender(R). This sprawling multi-volume set is searchable and browseable, and includes practical guidance by doctors on basic anatomy (with detailed charts), specific types of injuries and diseases, and topics like “Medicolegal Aspects of Sports” (chapter 9) or “Trial of a Personal Injury Case” (chapter 13).

Westlaw also contains a number of medical reference works, which can be found in the Directory under the path: Directories, Reference > Medical References. Titles include Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, the PDR, numerous physician and expert witness directories, and Attorneys Medical Deskbook 4th (MEDDESK), a handy reference for attorneys with thoughtful advice on topics like calculating damages, understanding certain injuries or diseases, and reading an autopsy report. Author Dan J. Tennenhouse holds a JD and an MD, which allows him to “bridge the gap” between legal research and medical knowledge.

For help finding more sources at the intersection of medicine and law, be sure to Ask a Librarian.