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Sidney Zion dies at 75; journalist spurred work limits for medical residents

He sued a New York hospital over his teenage daughter's death, saying its young doctors in training were overworked and undersupervised. The state later began regulating their hours.

August 08, 2009|Times Staff And Wire Reports

Sidney Zion, a New York-based journalist whose family tragedy helped lead to changes in the number of hours medical residents work, died of bladder cancer Sunday in Brooklyn, said his son Adam. He was 75.

In 1984, Zion took his 18-year-old daughter, Libby, to New York Hospital because she was agitated and had a high fever. She died the next morning of cardiopulmonary collapse.

Zion blamed doctors for her death, saying they had given her a painkiller that can react badly with an antidepressant she told doctors she was taking. He also said the hospital systematically overworked and undersupervised its young doctors in training.

Zion and his wife sued the hospital and the doctors in 1985. A jury returned a split verdict a decade later, deciding that the hospital, its resident doctors and Libby herself were all partly to blame for her death. The jurors accepted a defense claim that Libby had failed to disclose cocaine use.

In 1987, a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges but concluded that Libby might have lived if she had gotten experienced, professional care. The grand jury also suggested limiting work hours for medical residents.

New York Hospital paid a small fine and admitted to procedural lapses in connection with the case.

In 1989, New York became the first state to regulate intern and resident hours. They were limited to 24-hour shifts, not the 36-hour ones then common. The average work week was capped at 80 hours instead of the usual 100. More supervision by senior physicians also was required. Nationwide regulations followed in 2003.

Born Nov. 14, 1933, in Passaic, N.J., Zion graduated from Yale Law School and worked as a federal prosecutor. He became a reporter for the New York Times, then a columnist for the New York Daily News and, later, the New York Post.

His books included "The Autobiography of Roy Cohn," completed after Cohn's death.

Zion's wife died in 2005. In addition to his son Adam, he is survived by another son, Jed.

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news.obits@latimes.com

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