Malpractice vs Involuntary Manslaughter: What is the Distinction?
The current legal case being tried in court regarding the death of Michael Jackson by the alleged acts of Dr. Conrad Murray as involuntary manslaughter in contrast to the death being an act of malpractice brings up the question: what is the difference in legal terms between medical malpractice and involuntary manslaughter. And, perhaps, what is the difference in ethical terms? If the physician is found guilty, the physician is punished financially in the first case but by prison time in the second. An excellent article written by Eisenberg and Berlin in the American Journal of Radiology in August 2002 gives case examples and may tend to answer to the question posed in the title of my thread. An excerpt from the article follows:
The circumstances under which a physician's error of medical judgment triggers criminal prosecution are not totally clear. An English court of appeals ruled that to justify a criminal conviction, it must be proven that a physician acted with “gross negligence,” which is characterized by any or all of the following elements: indifference to an obvious risk of injury to health; actual foresight of the risk coupled with the determination nevertheless to run it; an appreciation of the risk coupled with a high degree of negligence in the attempt to avoid it; and inattention or failure to avert a serious risk.
A person whose behavior is “grossly negligent” may be liable for involuntary manslaughter if his or her conduct results in the accidental death of another person. Most jurisdictions hold that something more than ordinary negligence must be proven before the defendant can be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. This usually requires that there be a substantial danger not only of bodily harm, but also of “serious bodily harm or death.” The defendant must have acted “recklessly,” a term defined as a “gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a law-abiding person would observe” in the same situation The court must consider all the circumstances surrounding the incident, including the social utility of any objective the defendant is trying to fulfill.
What, in my opinion, seems to be missing in the accusation of a physician with a crime of involuntary manslaughter rather than a professional error of malpractice is whether the physician's intent in diagnosis and management was to ignore any attempt toward the professional goal of beneficence (doing a "good" ) to his or her patient. If one could prove that such was not the intent and goal, shouldn't that be the overriding criteria to define a death as professional malpractice and not a crime? On the other hand, I look forward toward what how others to my blog thread look at this distinction. ..Maurice.