Apparently a pharmacy technician mislabeled saline solution as a chemotherapy solution and the pharmacist had ample opportunity to catch the error and didn't. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and pled no contest. The tragic death of Emily Jerry led to the passage of Emily's law, which now mandates strict qualifications for pharmacy techs.
But I must admit to having reservations and mixed feelings about criminalizing the pharmacist's conduct in this case. Was he grossly negligent? If this article is accurate, yes. Should a malpractice lawsuit be brought against him? A no brainer. Was his conduct egregious enough to warrant imposing punitive damages against him personally in a civil malpractice lawsuit (damages specifically designed to punish wrongdoers for conduct that is more than just negligent)? Again, yes. Should he lose his license? Yes, in this case--in fact, he did.
In fairness, there is a difference between incompetently handling a prescription and transforming an act of gross malpractice/negligence into a criminal involuntary manslaughter charge. Criminally prosecuting and sentencing a medical professional is essentially unheard of as a result of a preventable medical mistake--in fact, as far as I know, this has never happened before in Ohio. And doctors hardly EVER lose their license when they commit malpractice, as I have written about here. Ohio malpractice laws allow for suing him and even imposing punitive damages against him, and are considered the only remedy for a deceased person's family.
I'm not sure what purpose charging him criminally and sentencing him to prison will serve at this point. This is a tough call for me since I have represented many families harmed by medical and pharmaceutical errors. Their lives are never the same. And we personal injurty attorneys are often portrayed (wrongly) as unfairly targeting and having no sympathy for the medical profession.
Criminally charging a medical professional in a case like this is a rare situation and is unlikely to ever occur again. Unfortunately, preventable medical errors like this one are NOT rare. As The North Carolina Board Of Pharmacy recently noted:
Communication failures between technicians
and pharmacists, IV compounder-related failures, inadequate
documentation of the exact products and amounts of additives,
and other system issues have contributed to numerous
My gut reaction, however, is that it just seems to be too harsh of a penalty in this case. Perhaps I would feel differently if it were my child. It's a tragedy any way you look at it. My sympathy goes out to all involved. Hopefully some good will come of it, and the recent law changes will make us all safer. But at a minimum, it proves once again that our medical system is still frequently riddled with preventable medical mistakes. Remember that when you hear all the rhetoric about our "runaway litigation climate" and the clarion calls for "medical malpractice reform" in the current health care "debate" (and I use that term loosely after seeing how embarrasingly ugly and rude and uncivil we as a nation have become recently).