Euthanasia doc wrongly reported brain death

Kyodo

A doctor accused of performing unlawful euthanasia on a male patient at Kawasaki Kyodo Hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture erroneously told the patient’s family that he was brain dead, an interim report of the hospital’s in-house probe said Monday.

The interim report was submitted to Kawasaki Municipal Government on Monday afternoon and made public.

The report said that the doctor’s explanation may have misled some family members to give their consent to remove a tracheal tube from the patient.

The patient, 58, was brought to the hospital in early November 1998, following an asthma attack on his way home from work. Although his heart function recovered, he remained in a coma and needed the tracheal tube to breathe, the report said.

The patient was comatose but in a stable condition and his death was not imminent before the doctor removed the tracheal tube, the report said.

The 47-year-old doctor, whose name has not been released, told the family several days after he was hospitalized: “He is brain dead. It’s 99 percent sure,” the report said.

However, the doctor noticed that he was not brain dead after she removed the tracheal tube from him because he was breathing on his own, according to the report.

The doctor consulted one of her colleagues about what to do, and the colleague, thinking that she was going to intubate him again, advised her to give the patient muscle relaxant, the report said. A small amount of the substance is often used before intubation to make patients more comfortable.

The female doctor instructed an assistant nurse to inject the patient with a muscle relaxant.

The report said that the doctor was well aware that removing the tracheal tube would result in his death, and that the injection of the substance was intended to make sure of his death.

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, the report said.

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 the following requirements are all met: he or she is suffering excruciating, untreatable pain; the patient requests it; and the death of the patient is imminent even without the mercy killing.