Physician Charged With Murder of Patients for Whom He Provided Comfort Care

Legal Background

Although Dr H was acquitted in this case, he is still facing numerous medical malpractice cases. The results may be very different with those. It’s important to remember that in a criminal case, the elements required to prove guilt are different (and much more stringent) than in a civil case.

In a murder case, the prosecution would have had to show that Dr H’s intent was to end the lives of his patients, and that was not obvious, despite the fact that some of his prescribed doses were unusually large. The prosecution ultimately could not prove that Dr H had any criminal intent, or that his actions were intended as euthanasia. Without being able to prove Dr H’s intent, the prosecution’s case failed.

The Takeaway

It will be interesting to see what happens with the civil cases. It is worth noting that the hospital originally had no policy limiting doses of pain relievers in the ICU at the time these events took place. Once the hospital fired Dr H, it enacted policies and procedures regarding pain relief in the ICU and trained staff on these policies. After Dr H was arrested, the hospital fired 23 nurses and pharmacists who had worked with him, and the hospital’s CEO resigned.

Had Dr H been found guilty, it might have caused major issues in the medical community regarding the legal hazards of prescribing pain medication, an issue that is already problematic. It will not do patients any good to have physicians fearful of arrest if they provide palliative care.