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October 21, 2008
9:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Room Hall E2-Area D,
Ethics, Economics and Epidurals: the Jess Weiss Story
David M. Broussard, M.D., Nicholas Forth, M.D.
Anesthesiology, Ochsner Medical Center, New Orleans, LA
Jess Weiss was born in 1917 in New York City. He completed his first two years of college at City College of New York and transferred to University of Alabama to pursue his dream of playing college football. Though he never made the team, Dr. Weiss graduated from Alabama and went on to attend medical school which he completed at Middlesex University in Massachusetts. After internship, World War II intervened and Dr. Weiss was drafted into the Navy. Upon completing his service, he returned to Boston and entered general practice where he occasionally participated in the delivery of anesthesia. His passion for the specialty was ignited and Dr. Weiss returned for additional training, completing an anesthesiology residency at Boston University. Another tour in the Navy found Dr. Weiss serving as Chief of Anesthesia at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guam. Dr. Weiss returned to practice at Harvard Medical School where he would ultimately serve as Vice Chair of Anesthesia at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Dr. Weiss' contributions to the field of Obstetric Anesthesia are reflected in his being the only anesthesiologist ever to receive the Distinguished Service award from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Weiss is credited as being among the revolutionaries that moved obstetric anesthesia from a primarily inhalational practice to one dominated by regional anesthetics. Dr. Weiss also made substantial contributions to the design of the epidural needle, adding “wings” which allow the user greater control over the needle as it is advanced. He also advocated for a “blunt” tip to the epidural needle, which would allow the dura to be moved slightly before being lacerated by the needle. These design changes have likely saved mothers from tens of thousands of wet-taps at the hands of new trainees over the decades.

Another professional passion for Dr. Weiss was the study of economics. According to friends, Dr. Weiss was driven here by his strong belief that ethics should dominate decisions regarding anesthesia charges. During his career, Dr. Weiss would serve as Chairman of the Economics Committee of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) as well as a member of the American Medical Associations' Current Procedural Terminology Editorial Board. His greatest contribution to medical economics would come in 1978 during his term as ASA president when he and Jack Lansdale fought the Department of Justice in Federal Court to preserve the ASA Relative Value Guide against charges of price-fixing. The value of the $500,000 expended by the ASA on this suit (an eye-popping sum at the time) to the current practice of anesthesiology cannot be overstated.

Anesthesiology 2008; 109 A1359