Money can pay stacks of overdue medical bills and buy a wheelchair.

But it can't erase the agony of that question the parents of a brain-damaged child can't help asking but try to avoid: "If only the doctor had been available and not made this mistake, imagine what dreams our son may have dreamed; what a productive life he may have lived."Their 5-year-old son, Josh, is partly blind. And what he can see, he doesn't have the intelligence to understand. His body, unless held or propped against a chair, falls limp like a soggy pillow.

He often has epileptic seizures. His parents describe his learning ability as "zero"; their hopes for his improvement are unlikely to be fulfilled.

Josh's condition, spastic quadriplegia, was caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain during delivery. Four years after filing suit against the physician who couldn't be located for nearly two days when Josh's mom was experiencing labor pains, the couple received financial compensation for damages. Attorneys settled the case the day before it was to go to trial.

"Here is our little boy who essentially had his life taken away, but he still has to lie around in this useless body because this doctor had something else on his mind," laments the father, stroking his son's head. Cradled in his father's husky arms, Josh looks like an overgrown rag doll.

The parents were willing to share their story and their reaction to proposed changes in the way malpractice cases are handled in Utah. But the couple chose not to reveal their own names for reasons of privacy.

They favor proposed changes by the Commission of Justice in the 21st Century to mandate arbitration if the process could be shortened and relieve some of the agony of waiting. "We wentthrough so much uncertainty." But they are suspicious of experts replacing a jury in deciding the merit of claims.

They feel their son is brain-damaged because they trusted a physician too much. They said a jury would be more empathetic to their point of view. A doctor on an arbitration panel might tend to side with his or her professional colleague, they fear.

They said they didn't want to sue, but they had no other way to pay to keep their only child alive. And as time passed, they realized their lives were forever altered. Their anger and feeling of helplessness overwhelmed them.

"You expect to have a healthy child. But the dreams you have for yourself and your child vanish. Your own future and opportunities are lost. Your health goes because of the constant stress. You give and give and give until you're exhausted," said Josh's mother.

"We were wronged by this doctor. We're grateful for the money that helps us care for Josh (the financial compensation, they said, was "very sufficient"), but money can't repair what happened. I worry if we died, Josh's medical needs would be taken care of, but no one would hug him because he doesn't look right."


PROPOSED BY UTAH JUSTICE COMMISSION: Remove medical malpractice suits from the courtroom into mandatory arbitration. Instead of a judge or jury, cases would be decided by a panel of trained arbitrators - a lawyer, a physician and a lay person - within a year's time.