By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
On September 14 Jennifer Henderson wrote an investigative report for Medpage Today focusing on Canadian born New Hampshire Cardiac surgeon Yvon Baribeau, who after his forced retirement, at 63, the Boston Globe learned that:
Ultimately, there has been no U.S. physician with more settlements involving surgical deaths over the last two decades, the Globe reported, citing an analysis of a national physicians’ database. And there has been no physician in New Hampshire with more settlements of any kind, the Globe added.
The investigative report doesn’t only determine that Baribeau caused a significant number of surgical deaths, but the report also determines that the hospital was made aware of the issue and didn’t stop him from doing surgery. According to the investigative report
Though the public remained largely in the dark when it came to Baribeau’s troubles, his institution long knew of them, the Globe reported.
“Hospital executives were well aware for years how dangerous he had become,” the Globe wrote. “They knew because they had been repeatedly warned by surgeons and other medical professionals at Catholic Medical Center that Baribeau’s errors were harming, even killing, patients.”
“And yet for years hospital management resisted reining in one of their leading rainmakers,” the Globe added.
As much as this tragic story makes me wonder how Baribeau was allowed to continue doing surgery for 20 or more years with such a high medical error and death rate, what makes this story even more concerning is the fact that Baribeau was considered a “star” surgeon who was often featured by the hospital.
The Medpage Today article only came to my attention because I was reading an interview by Kristina Fiore with Dr. Steven Marcus published by Medpage Today on September 22. Marcus was the physician who uncovered the medical serial killer nurse Charles Cullen.
Marcus explained to Fiore that they only became suspicious because they “received two unusual calls about digoxin toxicity in two different patients at Somerset Medical Center within 2 weeks of each other in June 2003.” Marcus was the director of the New Jersey poison control center.
Two weeks later Bruce Ruck, the head pharmacist at the poison control center, was speaking to another “whistle blower” who was concerned about strange deaths at the Somerset Medical Center. This person was calling about two other deaths.
Marcus contacted the hospital about the possibility that one of their medical workers was killing patients. Marcus told Fiore:
We wanted to be sure that these four events were real and were documented. Then we would work together to try to come up with an approach to see if, in fact, there is somebody there that’s attempting to kill people — or is there a breakdown in their system someplace that allows for really severe medical errors to recur?
We did get into a telephone call, but there was a complete denial by the hospital. [They said] there was no way that this could be happening, and that there are obvious other reasons that it could occur. They were not willing to get involved, as far as we could tell, with any investigation.
The hospital refused to acknowledge that there was a possible problem and they refused to participate in an investigation.
Since the hospital was unwilling to investigate, Marcus tried to find another organization that was willing to investigate. He contacted the Hospital licensing group which was part of the department of health. He told them that if they don’t find a logical explanation for these deaths that they would probably need to reach out to the Attorney General’s Office.
That was July. Marcus did not receive a call until October from the Somerset County Prosecutors office. The rest is history, nonetheless., Similar to the first story of Dr. Baribeau, there were nurses who reported Cullen, but the hospital did nothing. To make things worse, when Cullen moved to another hospital, the previous hospital did not warn the next hospital that there were complaints about Cullen.
The article ends with Marcus stating:
In our case, just think about the serendipity involved. Had we not had two calls — one from a nurse, one from a pharmacist — to the poison center within a couple of weeks; had I not been consulted on the first case; had I not walked by Bruce on the second case, Cullen might never have been stopped.
There are probably murderers out there killing people as we speak.
Am I suggesting that there are medical murderers lurking in hospitals throughout the world? I really don’t know.
But I do know that the euthanasia laws in Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands and the assisted suicide laws in the United States give doctors, and in some cases nurse practitioners, complete legal coverage when they kill someone. I also know that there is little to no oversight of these laws.
For instance, Canada’s law states that the medical practitioner only needs to be “of the opinion” that a person fits the criteria of the law. This type of loose language encourage people who already have a propensity to kill.
Sadly, there have always been killers. The only difference with euthanasia is that the act of killing is legal and even in some cases promoted.
Editor’s note. This appeared at Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and reposted with permission.