MEDICAL MALPRACTICE: Doctor Acquitted In Infant Murder Trial
"The unusual prosecution of a Northern California doctor charged with the murder of an infant patient ended abruptly Friday" in Lakeport when the judge ruled that "authorities failed to show that the physician had acted criminally" the Los Angeles Times reports. The case has "outraged the medical community, which contends that doctors should not be prosecuted for medical mistakes." Dr. Wolfgang Schug, who treated 11-month-old Cody Burrows in the emergency room of Redbud Community Hospital, a small rural hospital 110 miles north of San Francisco, "expressed relief over his acquittal but also bitterness over the legal ordeal that tarnished his reputation." The murder case had alleged that he initially failed to recognize the infant's critical condition, and subsequently attempted to avoid responsibility for his mistake by sending the family, by car, over 55 miles of winding mountain roads to a distant hospital. When the boy arrived, he was brain-dead.
The Los Angeles Times reports that "[p]rosecutors from the state attorney general's office appeared stunned by the judge's decision," as did the boy's family. Deputy Attorney General Vernon Pierson said, "There's nothing that I'm aware of that says that an MD degree at the end of your name says that somehow, you're above the law." However, a trustee of the California Medical Association said the decision "made him happy for all physicians." The case "had alarmed state and national medical associations, which oppose the prosecution of doctors for medical judgements." Dr. Schug, who said he had done his best for the child, commented, "You go to work and you do the best you can. If something goes wrong you should not be subject to 15 years in prison ... This child was killed by an illness which I was unable to stop." Schug has been on unpaid leave from the hospital since his arrest last August (Dolan, 2/21). Click here for earlier California HealthLine coverage of this story.