Swedish doctor Charged with infant euthanasia

By Dave Andrusko

The details were sketchy but legal proceedings began yesterday in the case of a Swedish doctor accused of alleged infant euthanasia in a children’s hospital.

A 57-year-old doctor, whose name was not disclosed in the story that ran in asiaone.com, “has been charged with manslaughter or alternatively attempted manslaughter for allegedly administering excessive doses of thiopental, an anesthetic” to a three-month-old baby who was born prematurely.  If convicted, she faces six to 10 years in prison.

The focus of the story was less on what the doctor was alleged to have done than on the “deep unease among the country’s medical profession” where  “legal procedures against doctors are very rare,” according to asiaone.com.

According to the news service, after the doctor consulted with the family and “conclude[ed] that the baby’s life could not be saved,” she removed the child from life support. However in the autopsy that followed, the family learned “that the infant had received abnormally high doses of thiopental, and the family then had charges pressed against the doctor.”

The story quoted Swedish medical officials who took one of two positions. First, that to question yourself is “part of the job,” but if doctors now “think things over a bit more” it can “unnecessarily delay medical care,” according to Marta Christensen, the deputy head of Stockholm’s Association of Medical Practitioners. Alternatively, (according to Professor emeritus Margareta Leijonhufvud) “that in end-of-life medical care, ethical guidelines allow doctors to administer painkillers even if it means death comes sooner than it otherwise would have.”

The latter rationale ignores that the doctor did not ask the parents’ permission to administer a powerful anesthetic. According to the story, having been told the baby could not be saved, they agreed only to remove the child from life support.

The former justification (by Dr. Christensen) implies that asking the parents for authorization to do something she wanted will endanger the way medicine is practice in Sweden. It also included the conclusion that “A sense of insecurity has plagued the entire medical corps.” That may be because malpractice cases typically are heard by the National Board of Health and Welfare “with no criminal ramifications,” according to the news service.

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