Euthanasia doctor may face murder charge

Kyodo

A former doctor at a Kanagawa Prefecture hospital could face homicide charges after recent findings showed she intentionally pulled out a tracheal tube and administered a fatal dose of muscle relaxant to a comatose man in 1998, resulting in his death, sources said Wednesday.

The latest development in the case of alleged unlawful euthanasia at Kawasaki Kyodo Hospital is based on an examination by a university professor in Tokyo following a request by Kanagawa Prefectural Police, the sources said.

Police plan to question the 47-year-old doctor, who resigned from the hospital in February, with an eye to charging her with murder, according to the sources. The doctor, whose name was not released, now works at a clinic in Yokohama.

Establishment of proof of intent to kill now seems possible with the latest findings, since death was certain after the patient’s artificial respirator was disengaged and he was administered with muscle relaxant.

The findings, which were based on medical charts and nurse records, among other things, showed that the 58-year-old patient died of respiratory failure due to the muscle relaxant, and his death was hastened because of the removal of the tube, according to the sources.

The doctor’s lawyer said the patient’s relatives had requested that his treatment be stopped. The relatives, however, reportedly deny this.

The doctor is suspected of deciding on her own to speed up the patient’s death, in consideration of the burden on his family.

Her lawyer has said the dose was to alleviate the patient’s pain and not to stop his breathing. Sedatives were also administered to the man before the muscle relaxant, but the sedatives apparently had no effect.

About 4 mg to 6 mg are allowed in an initial dose, and a further 1 mg to 2 mg if the need arises thereafter. In the case involving Kawasaki Kyodo Hospital, nurse records showed that 12 mg had been intravenously injected into the man.

The man was admitted to the hospital on Nov. 2, 1998 after suffering cardio-respiratory arrest, and although his heart functions recovered, he remained in a coma and needed the tracheal tube to breathe. He died Nov. 16.

The case was made public by the hospital in April.