Doctor won’t be prosecuted for patient’s death

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(Host) Attorney General William Sorrell says his office will not bring criminal charges against a Northeast Kingdom physician who was sanctioned by the Vermont Medical Practices Board on Wednesday afternoon for administering a life ending drug to an elderly patient who was terminally ill. Sorrell says the doctor made a bad decision that was well intentioned and the Attorney General says it would have been very difficult to win this case in court.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) There are few disputes about the facts in this case. Dr. Lloyd Thompson III admits that he administered a drug known as Norcuron to a terminally ill cancer patient at the Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury in the late summer of 2002.

The drug was administered after the patient’s family followed the wishes of the patient and removed her from a respirator. Hospital records show that within minutes of receiving this drug the patient died. The issue came before the Vermont Medical Practice Board because Norcuron is not recognized as a pain relief drug but is considered a neuromuscular blocking agent that causes muscle paralysis.

Following a preliminary investigation by the Board, Dr. Thompson agreed to a consent order that called for him to cooperate with Board in a more detailed investigation and the order also required a monitoring and review of his care of all terminally ill patients. The Board on Wednesday afternoon publicly reprimanded Dr. Thompson and extended the conditions of the consent order for at least another year.

Sorrell says two key factors in his decision were that the patient’s family urged him not to prosecute Dr. Thompson and that the doctor is the head of the Vermont Medical Society and a respected member of his community:

(Sorrell) “The administration of a drug that has no therapeutic use at the end of life and which hastens death is wrong and it will continue to be wrong in this state. And if there’s a reoccurrence I reserve every right to respond differently. Here, taking all of the facts into account, our decision is that it would not be right or a just result for us to proceed with criminal prosecution of Dr. Thompson.”

(Kinzel) Sorrell says he has every reason to believe that Dr. Thompson knew that administering the drug would hasten the death of the patient:

(Sorrell) “She had made very clear that she wanted no extraordinary measures taken to prolong her life, so clearly not assisted suicide. Was it euthanasia? Arguably.”

(Kinzel) Sorrell says he hopes that this decision will not cause doctors across the state to reduce the use of drugs to relieve pain in terminally ill patients.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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