KAWASAKI – Police began a full investigation Saturday into the case of a doctor who performed euthanasia on a comatose man.
The incident occurred at Kawasaki Kyodo Hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1998.
Police sources say they are considering arresting the female doctor on suspicion of murder for administering a muscle relaxant that caused the man’s death. The patient has not been identified.
The comatose man, in his 50s, was admitted to the hospital in early November 1998, hospital officials said at a news conference Friday. He died in mid-November after the doctor removed a tracheal tube and administered the muscle relaxant.
The man had been brought to the hospital after suffering a cardiorespiratory arrest brought on by an asthma attack while on his way home from work. Though his heart functions recovered, he remained unconscious and needed the tracheal tube to breathe, the officials said.
The doctor in charge suggested to his family that the tracheal tube be removed to put him out of his misery, saying she felt sorry for him being kept alive in a vegetative state.
In mid-November, two days after she made the suggestion, she removed the tracheal tube in the presence of the patient’s family and gave him a muscle relaxant to stop his breathing.
The man died from respiratory muscle paralysis a few minutes later, but the doctor compiled a false death certificate stating that he had died of an illness, according to hospital sources.
On the man’s medical report, however, she wrote that she had removed the tracheal tube and administered the muscle relaxant after administering a sedative, on the grounds that it would be cruel to prolong the man’s life, the sources said.
The man’s health is believed to have suffered due to exposure to air pollution in Kawasaki.
The Kawasaki Municipal Government announced around the time the man died that a patient acknowledged to be suffering from exposure to air pollution had died of anoxic encephalopathy due to asthma. This led to suspicions that the hospital had made a false report to the city regarding the cause of the man’s death, the sources said.
The police intend to seek an explanation from the hospital on the course of events leading up to the man’s death and to have the hospital voluntarily submit related documents, police sources said.
The hospital chose not to dismiss the doctor, hoping to keep the case quiet, hospital sources said earlier Saturday.
After the patient died, the hospital director only gave the doctor a verbal warning, despite concerns expressed by others about her actions.
But last October, the hospital conducted a further internal investigation into the case and advised the doctor to resign in December on the grounds that firing her would have made the case public. The doctor resigned in late February.
“I advised the doctor to turn herself in to the police,” Shizuo Horiuchi, the hospital’s director, said Friday. “I did not intend to hide the case.”
Hospital sources said one of the reasons the hospital decided to reveal the case to the public was that the media had started asking questions about it.
According to a judgment by the Yokohama District Court in May 1995 on a mercy killing in April 1991 at Tokai University Hospital in Isehara, Kanagawa Prefecture, doctors are allowed to end a patient’s life only if he or she is suffering excruciating pain or if the patient requests it.
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