The “It’s God’s Will” Defense

Malpractice seems like it should have a fairly standard meaning, but apparently that meaning is different in Saudi Arabia.  Mohammad Al-Yami was a straight-A student in need of corrective surgery in 2005, if he was to be allowed into the King Khaled Military Academy. He had the procedure performed there in Saudi, at the Dr. Sulaiman Al-Habib Medical Hospital in Riyadh. But after the procedure, his vision became worse.

The young man’s father, Mahdi Al-Yami, sued on his son’s behalf, claiming that the damage done to his son’s eyes was inoperable, causing him to have to give up aspirations of attending the Military Academy and take a U.S. scholarship for Mechanical Engineering instead. A clinic in the US has diagnosed him with corneal surface distortion that cannot be corrected with eyeglasses. It should be a straightforward case, and yet Mr. Al-Yami has been trying in vain for three years, hoping to gain satisfaction from the hospital.

Mahdi Al-Yami said the hospital had no defense. Nevertheless, the judge refused to accept a US medical report stating that his son’s eyes became worse as a result of the laser surgery. Instead, he ordered the case postponed until the young man returns to Saudi when he can be examined by two doctors at the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital. The judge went so far as to express a preference for Saudi physicians to perform the examination. Madhi Al-Yami counters that he cannot afford to pay to have his son return from his studies in the U.S. just for that. Although it has not been stated, there’s reason to think that the Saudi hospital may not be a trustworthy second opinion.

According to Mr. Al-Yami, both the judge and the hospital acknowledge that the boy’s eyes were damaged by whatever happened during the Lasiks procedure. Nevertheless, Mr. Al-Yami informs, “The hospital’s representatives and judge replied that what has happened has happened, and that is God’s will.” This seems all the more strange in light of the fact that the hospital had promised a second surgury to resolve the problem — a procedure which never happened.

The Al-Yami family has expressed anger that their complaint against the hospital was bounced from desk to desk for three years, even though the Ministry of Health has ordered an investigation. Even at that the plight is far from over. “My son now has to use special lenses that need to be changed every 10 months, cost over $1,000 and can only be purchased in the US,” Al-Yami said, exclaiming “What will my son do when he returns as the lenses are not available in the Kingdom? After majoring in engineering, how can he work with his failing vision?”

The judge acknowledged that his son’s case constitutes medical malpractice, but has taken no action against the surgeon or facility.

Perhaps only in Saudi could one make a legal defense out of “It’s God’s will.”