Dr. Wes Ely comments on the acquittal of Dr William Husel in the overdose deaths of 14 patients.

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Dr. Wes Ely

Dr. Wes Ely will be featured in an EPC zoom meeting on May 9 at 3 pm (EST). Dr Ely will speak about the Husel case and the proper use of opioids. 

Recently a jury found Dr. William Husel NOT Guilty on All 14 Counts of Murder. We learn that, after deliberating for five days, the jury found former physician William Husel not guilty of murder after overdosing patients with fentanyl and benzodiazepines. Husel claimed he was providing “comfort care” even though the doses of drugs were determined to be lethal; the defense claimed that he did not have “intent” to kill.

Charlie Camosy interviewed Dr. Wes Ely who was an expert witness in the Husel trial, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and the associate director of aging research for the Tennessee Valley Veteran’s Affairs Geriatric Research Education Clinical Center. 

The following comments by Dr. Ely create significant concern about the jury’s decision in the Husel trial. Dr Ely responded to Camosy about the verdict by stating:

I want to trust the justice system and I want to know that in the United States, that a jury of our peers can make good and well informed decisions that we can live by and achieve justice in our society.

On the other hand, this is a physician who we absolutely know gave upwards of one to 3,000 micrograms of fentanyl to 14 people, actually 25 people, but only 14 were taken to trial.

That amount of medication completely stops the brain from sending signals to breathe so that we would stop breathing at all if we get that amount of a narcotic opioid. In addition to that, with high doses of fentanyl like that in the operating room, we see very tight chest wall muscles so that we physically can’t breathe, even if you want to.

Camosy then asks Dr Ely – did these overdoses kill?

I think that these doses did kill these people. They were very critically ill people, and, yes, they were dying, but we are all dying over time. The patients weren’t going to die in 12 minutes, which was the average time to death after the drugs were injected.

At the end of the day, these actions taken by Dr. Husel, and I testified very clearly on this, did shorten these people’s lives, I think, without any degree of uncertainty.

And so I have mixed emotions because my gut and instinct as a physician and as a person goes against the decision that was made by the jury. However, I will accept the decision, while at the same time hoping for some reforms to prevent this from happening again.

In his conclusion Dr. Ely states:

The case of William Husel is a breach of our understanding of truth, in that I think Dr. Husel was giving lethal doses of medications in the name of palliative care. And when he was not found guilty by a jury of his peers, the worry that I have is that it will give other people license to go about giving these sorts of euthanasia style doses to other human beings, even when the patients haven’t asked for it. 

Editor’s note. This appeared at Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.