SAPPORO – Prosecutors decided Thursday not to charge a Hokkaido doctor with murder for removing the respirator from a terminal patient, after which he died, saying it was “extremely difficult” to find a causal link between the doctor’s action and the patient’s death.
The prosecutors’ decision is likely to influence investigations of another case that came to light in March, in which a doctor in Toyama Prefecture removed the respirators of seven terminal patients, who died afterward.
According to the investigation, the 34-year-old doctor in Hokkaido removed the respirator from a 90-year-old patient, who could not breathe on his own, at Hokkaido Prefectural Haboro Hospital on Feb. 15, 2004, causing him to die about 15 minutes later.
The man was admitted to the hospital in Haboro the day earlier with heart and lung failure that resulted form choking on food.
Hokkaido police turned their case over to prosecutors in May. Police said the doctor crossed the line when he removed the respirator without consulting his colleagues and without seeking consent from the patient or his family.
The prosecutors later learned that examinations by several doctors showed the man would have died soon even if the respirator had not been removed.
Based on a 1995 Yokohama District Court ruling, terminating life-sustaining treatment is legal if four conditions are met — the patient’s death is imminent, there is unendurable pain, there is no other way to alleviate the pain, and the patient wishes to be euthanized.
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