Criminalizing medicine will lead to fewer doctors

I recently read about a case involving the next step down the slippery slope of criminal prosecution of physicians.

First Michael Jackson’s physician gets prosecuted when his physician gives him an unintentional overdose of an anesthetic medication when trying to help him sleep. According to a previous discussion on this topic, most people seemed to think that prosecutors were justified in those charges.

Now, Dr. Mathew Wallack is being criminally investigated for illegally prescribing excessive doses of narcotics.

Who should be responsible when a patient dies from an overdose of medication and a physician allegedly prescribes “too much” of that medication? And how do we define “too much”?

Who should be responsible for making sure that patients aren’t getting multiple prescriptions from multiple physicians – which could result in an overdose and death?

Who should be responsible if physicians don’t have access to that information – preventing them from determining whether their prescription, combined with the patient’s other prescriptions, may lead to overdose and death?

Who should be responsible if physicians prescribe a one-month supply of medications and the patients take them all within a week and die?

This is why I think criminal prosecution of physicians who make mistakes is a bad idea. We may be able to pick out the “outlier” cases that might warrant criminal prosecution, but should we subject those practicing medicine to criminal prosecution by using vague definitions?

Take their licenses away. File civil actions against them. Jail time shouldn’t be part of the paradigm.

The further we travel down the road of criminalizing medicine, the more difficult it will become to draw a line between what is and is not considered “criminal” behavior … and the fewer physicians that will want to practice medicine.

WhiteCoat is an emergency physician who blogs at WhiteCoat’s Call Room at Emergency Physicians Monthly.

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