When Does Medical Malpractice Turn Into A Criminal Case?

Medical malpractice results in thousands of lawsuits in the United State every year. Believe it or not, many of the doctors who are the subjects of these lawsuits also face criminal charges ranging from simple assault to murder. Why? Simply put, there is a point at which simple mistakes turn into criminal actions. And it’s important to remember that most district attorneys still charge a person with manslaughter when negligence results in the death of another human being. Medical malpractice has resulted in many, many deaths.

One Ohio doctor was arrested in 2019 only to be charged with prescribing fatal doses of opioids — i.e. synthetic heroin — to patients who were already near death. He faced multiple counts of murder after 25 of his patients died. The case was similar to one reported in San Bernardino County last year, when a doctor was charged with purposely giving patients lethal doses of the wrong drug.

Former doctor William Husel surrendered himself in Columbus prior to being charged with murder. He had worked for the Mount Carmel Health System for three years before the authorities began looking into the deaths. He was inevitably fired when they did. This was the result of a long-winded six-month investigation by the local district attorney and Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office. 

But prosecutors wonder how the murder spree could have continued for such a long period of time without anyone noticing.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said, “I’ve been a prosecutor for 22 years and have not seen a 25-count indictment during those years.”

Husel Attorney Richard Blake vigorously defended his client’s actions: “This is not a murder case. I can assure you there was never any attempt to euthanize anyone by Dr. Husel. At no time did he ever have the intent to euthanize anyone.”

But regardless of intent, Husel’s prescriptions still led to the deaths of at least 25 terminal patients — which is manslaughter at the least, and could still result in life in prison.

Should Husel be convicted, he would face a near-certain life in prison either way. O’Brien defended the charges, suggesting that no prescription like those ordered for the patients could “support any legitimate medical purpose.”

Prosecutors have yet to charge any of the nurses and pharmacists who followed Husel’s plot.  Mount Carmel Health System released a statement after the arrest, saying they “will continue to implement meaningful changes throughout our system to ensure events like these never happen again.”

Husel also faces no fewer than 19 medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits from the family members of the deceased patients. Eight other cases were settled.

In Ohio (and most states), physician-assisted suicide is illegal.

Patients are normally prescribed around 100 micrograms of synthetic opioids to combat pain, but according to one lawsuit Husel ordered 2,000 micrograms of fentanyl minutes before the patient died. Other patients were given scripts ordering 500 micrograms of the drug. 

As of January 2022, the case has still not gone to trial — and prosecutors might reduce the charges against the disgraced doctor.