"Death with dignity" laws raise serious questions about the doctor-patient relationship.
A 63-year-old Australian anaesthetist from the state of Victoria has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for infecting 55 women patients with Hepatitis C between June 2008 and November 2009.
"As an anaesthetist, you must have known that this pernicious illness could be transmitted by the mixing of your blood into the bloodstream of another," Victorian Supreme Court Judge Terry Forrest said as he handed down the verdict on James Latham Peters on Thursday morning.
"I consider your conduct to be truly reprehensible and I view your moral culpability in relation to each offence as very high."
Pleading guilty at the onset of the trial to all 55 cases, Mr Peters committed the grave offenses because he himself was high on the illegal drug fentanyl when he administered to the female patients. Mr Peters admitted he injected himself with pre-filled syringes of fentanyl and then administered the remaining drug to the patients who made pregnancy terminations.
Consequently, Victoria's Medical Practitioners Board got wired into the case for its "complete incompetence" to monitor Mr Peters condition as well as his medical qualifications.
Mr Peters had a history of drug abuse to fentanyl and pethidine which he admitted to the medical board in 1996. He didn't however disclosed he has hepatitis C. But while he was required to undergo regular urine drug screening in compliance to the board's monitoring conditions, he said he was never tested for his fentanyl drug addiction.
Although the medical board subsequently suspended him, Mr Peters was allowed to return to work under certain monitoring conditions.
''At 63, you are professionally disgraced, de-registered, socially isolated and facing imprisonment for a large proportion of the rest of your life - perhaps all of it,'' Judge Forrest said. ''For what? For succumbing to an addiction that has compromised every aspect of your life."
''For infecting 55 vulnerable young women who placed their absolute trust in your professional skill and integrity. For giving them a virus from which there is no certain recovery."
''For placing most of them at risk of of developing cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. For causing everyone of them to suffer significant emotional trauma."
''Your predicament, and theirs, can be traced to one poisonous tap-root. Your uncontrolled addiction to narcotics, and in particular Fentanyl.''
Mr Peters will serve a minimum of 10 years before being eligible for parole.
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