Synopsis of the Case - see "legal history" for a full account
This is the "64 second" overview:
Robert Weitzel, M.D., a board certified psychiatrist, was taking care of geriatric psychiatric patients at Davis Hospital in the winter of 1995-96, when quite a few very demented and highly agitated patients were admitted, basically having been ejected from their nursing homes because of their dangerous and disruptive behavior.
Weitzel tried with psychiatric medications to get five of these patients' agitated, psychotic, affectively labile symptoms under control. During this attempt four of the patients, average age 86, coincidentally became seriously (and acutely) medically ill, with such problems as GI bleed, sepsis, CVA, and renal failure. The families of the four (mentally incompetent) patients were advised of this, and offered 1) full ICU workup and treatment, or 2) withdrawal of medical interventions, keeping the patients comfortable while nature took its course.
The families chose to order withdrawal of interventions, and signed advance directives to that effect.
The four patients had almost all previous treatments stopped, and were instead given moderate doses of opiates, and nursing "comfort care". NONE died immediately on being given opiates, but rather they died later from their underlying pathology. There was no intent to kill; and no patient WAS killed. This was standard medical care, avoiding prolonging death, seen every day in every hospital in this country.
The one other patient died (age 91) soon after admission, evidently with a pneumonia and heart disease that preceded any care by Dr. Weitzel. She was given morphine for clearly evident severe pain, but there was no connection between that and time of death, much later.
Dr. Weitzel was charged by a county prosecutor, years later, with five counts of first degree murder, despite the prosecutor's knowledge that the care was not criminal.
Dr. Weitzel was convicted by a lay jury of lesser charges of manslaughter and negligent homicide, and then sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
After the conviction it was discovered that the prosecution's "star witness", Brad Hare, had recommended another doctor, Perry Fine, MD, as a better expert in this field. (Hare is a very opiophobic anesthesiologist and only does outpatient pain treatment and operating room anesthesia; Fine is active in both of those practices, but is also one of the top experts in the country on end-of-life care, and is a medical director of the largest hospice organization in the country). The state sought out Fine's advice and listed him as a prosecution witness, but after a thorough review of the records, he told them they should not prosecute, for the care was standard and no crime had been committed.
Rather than reconsider their case, the prosecutors went ahead with their (now-discredited) star witness, Hare, and got Dr. Weitzel (temporarily) convicted, never telling the defense of the exculpatory and impeaching witness. However, when this was discovered, a Motion for New Trial was filed and granted, and after six months and a day in prison Dr. Weitzel was released. Since then he has been fighting attempts by the state, their backs against the wall, to unethically and unjustly convict him on something, anything, to deflect attention from their wrongdoing.
On November 22, 2002, the jury found Dr. Weitzel "NOT GUILTY" on all counts.
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