Editorial | Tahj Rowe and the PM’s moral hazards
No one would question, or would wish so to do, that it was Andrew Holness' humanity that impelled him to visit the home of brain-damaged Tahj Rowe and make a personal donation towards the care of the invalid boy.
But, as Mr Holness would know, even the private actions of political leaders, and particularly of prime ministers, are never entirely private, especially when they invite the spotlight unto themselves. With regard to the Tahj Rowe matter, Mr Holness may have opened his actions to dissection not only for motive, but to moral hazard, including demands that the administration end its appeal against the court ruling that held the State culpable for Tahj's disability.
Tahj Rowe was born at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in April 2004 to a then teenage Tasha Howell as a "post-term neonate", in that his birth was after his due date. He was subsequently determined, having been discharged after a fortnight in hospital, to have suffered damage from bleeding in the brain, which Victoria Jubilee and its parent organisation, the South Eastern Regional Health Authority (SERHA), attributed to a heredity that would have been "unpredictable and untreatable during the mother's pregnancy".
In 2009, Tahj Rowe's mother sued Victoria Jubilee and SERHA. Experts, on her behalf, argued that the medical interventions afforded to the mother and baby, in the circumstances of the birth, were inadequate. In 2015, the Supreme Court found that the institutions and their servants had failed in their duty of care to the patients. Said Justice AudrÈ Lindo in her ruling: "I have concluded from the totality of the medical evidence before me that the procedure(s) adopted in dealing with Ms Howell, and the claimant at birth, fell short of what is recognised and accepted procedure for treating what they have recorded as a post-term neonate."
She awarded Tahj a total of J$26 million in damages to cover the cost of his care. The Government, having appealed the verdict, has not paid, causing financial hardships for Tahj Rowe's caregivers, the highlighting of which elicited an intervention from Prime Minister Holness. A week ago, he visited the family home and made a donation of an undisclosed sum of money.
A number of issues arise from the event, the least being the fact that it again exposed the slow pace at which cases move through Jamaica's courts, often with distress to the contending parties, especially to people of little means, like Tahj Rowe's family.
Mr Holness was in all likelihood genuinely moved by the economic plight of Tahj Rowe's caregivers, remembering from his childhood a family member who had faced similar circumstances.
Unfortunately, Mr Holness chose to invite the press into his engagement with Tahj Rowe's family, whose timing, a week ago, some cynics might argue, would have been a useful distraction from events at Petrojam, where the Government faced criticisms over alleged corruption and cronyism.
On the issue of moral hazard to himself, Mr Holness, by this very public gesture, could well open himself to demands for personal help to other victims, and/or claimants, who believe they have equally, or even more compelling cases.
Further, the prime minister is reported to have instructed his attorney general to fast-track the matter of payment through the courts. There is no clarity whether that means the Government should encourage the Court of Appeal to accelerate, and settle, the case either way, or that it was his intent to have the appeal withdrawn and the payment made to Tahj Rowe. Or, possibly the idea is for an ex gratia payment to Tahj Rowe. All of these possibilities are not without hazards.