FINAL TREATMENT: The File on Dr. X by Matthew L. Lifflander

FINAL TREATMENT: The File on Dr. X

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Physicians have a very special capacity literally to get away with murder."" Lifflander's patient, sometimes manipulative popular history of the ""Dr. X"" case indicates that he thinks Mario Jascalevich is one physician who did: rather grandly, he claims that ""This is a study of failure and institutional inadequacy in the professions of law and medicine."" Jascalevich was acquitted last October on charges of curare-poisoning in a N.J. hospital in 1966; Lifflander's entirely informal but increasingly consuming connection with the case derived from his friendship with the doctor who first tied Jascalevich to the unexplained deaths. A resourceful lawyer with good contacts, Lifflander enlisted N.Y.C. Medical Examiner Milton Helpern to review tissue-samples and autopsy reports as the Bergen County investigation foundered--unequipped to pursue the subtleties of forensic pathology and toxicology--and then folded. Nine years later when Myron Farber of the New York Times initiated his own investigation, Lifflander volunteered his file (labeled ""Dr. X"") and his full cooperation. He applauds Father's work, without which new prosecutor Woodcock would not have reopened the case, but accuses the reporter of a ""diabolical"" effort to keep him and Woodcock apart; Lifflander's name never even appeared in Farber's celebrated article-series. Because he uses his own participation as a fulcrum for the narration, Lifflander represents his observations as conclusive (e.g., his suspicion of Woodcock's commitment to prosecute), without reference to the revised judgments he makes later on new evidence (e.g., of Farber's perfidy). But if he is self-centered in that respect, he is also conversant with and seriously critical of the compound miscarriages in the case--the famous Court-jesting and virtual dismissal of the landmark curare-detection in exhumed bodies. For Lifflander, the systemic problems here are emblematic; the book is too slanted to be the parable he intends, but it locks up Jascalevich after all.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1979
Publisher: Norton