By PAM BELLUCK
BOSTON, May 20 - The widow of the eminent evolutionary biologist
Stephen Jay Gould filed a wrongful-death lawsuit on Friday against doctors at two of Boston's
most prominent hospitals, accusing them of negligence because, she said,
they inexplicably failed to notice a tumor that ultimately tripled in
size and caused Dr. Gould to die of cancer.
The suit, against an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and
two radiologists who worked at Brigham and Women's Hospital, says
the tumor can be seen in an X-ray of Dr. Gould's lungs that was taken
in February 2001, 15 months before his death.
His widow, Rhonda Roland Shearer, said in an interview that at the time
of the X-ray, the tumor was one centimeter in diameter. Ms. Shearer said
medical experts had since told her that at that stage, the tumor, if diagnosed,
could have been operated on and his cancer treated.
"A child of 5 could see the lesion," she said, adding that because
Dr. Gould had had an unrelated cancer 20 years earlier, the doctors should
have been especially vigilant in searching for tumors. Instead, the radiological
report said that "the lungs are clear."
Thirteen months later, Dr. Gould, a prolific writer who is credited with
several groundbreaking theories on evolution, had a chest X-ray at New
York-Presbyterian Hospital that showed a tumor three centimeters in size
and cancer that had "already spread to the brain and liver,"
Ms. Shearer said. Ten weeks after that, on May 20, 2002, he died at 60.
After her husband's death, Ms. Shearer began to do some research. She
wanted to figure out, she said, why Dr. Gould, who had received regular
cancer screens, had "been given a clean bill of health" by Dr.
Robert J. Mayer, director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology
at Dana-Farber, who was Dr. Gould's regular physician.
It was then, Ms. Shearer said, that medical experts told her the one-centimeter
tumor was the same as the one that caused Dr. Gould's death. She said
that as a matter of standard practice, Dr. Mayer and the other defendants
would most likely have reviewed Dr. Gould's medical records soon after
the diagnosis. But even then, she said, they never told her or Dr. Gould
that they had missed the tumor.
In a statement Friday, Dana-Farber said that Dr. Mayer "cared for
Professor Gould for nine years."
"They developed a close relationship," the statement said, "and
he greatly admired and respected his patient."
The statement said the claims against Dr. Mayer were "without merit,
and there is simply no basis for holding him responsible for the alleged
failure to diagnose."
Brigham and Women's Hospital, which employed the two radiologists,
Dr. Salvatore G. Viscomi, who is still there, and Dr. Rebecca L. Dyson,
who has since left, said in a statement that "the legal process is
the appropriate forum to respond to the allegations."
The lawsuit does not specify the damages being sought, but says that Dr.
Gould earned $300,000 a year from speaking engagements alone, that "a
seven-figure income was his norm" and that when he died he was about
to enter into a book contract for more than $2 million.
Ms. Shearer, 50, a sculptor with whom Dr. Gould founded a nonprofit called
the Art Science Research Center, said that part of any damage award would
go to his two adult sons, one of whom, she said, is developmentally disabled,
and part would go to "make sure that Steve's writings are free
*** POSTED ON MAY 25, 2005 ***