Dubai doctor sentenced to life for mercy killing

A Dubai court sentences the former chief of the intensive care unit at Rashid Hospital to life imprisonment for the mercy killing of a quadriplegic patient.

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DUBAI // A doctor who carried out the mercy killing of a quadriplegic patient was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for premeditated murder.

Eugen Adelsmayr, 50, switched off Ghulam Mohammed’s life-support machine and increased his morphine dose, causing him to have a fatal heart attack. He also ordered medical staff not to resuscitate the labourer, who was paralysed in an accident.

Adelsmayr, 50, former head of the intensive care unit at Rashid Hospital, returned to his home in Austria this year for the funeral of his wife, and was not at Dubai Criminal Court to hear the verdict.

Last night he protested his innocence, and said the verdict was based on an incorrect translation of a medical report into the case, which cleared him. “The verdict was shocking and not understandable,” he told The National.

The court found that he issued verbal “do not resuscitate” instructions to ICU staff, then wrote the instructions down and personally supervised carrying them out.

M?A, 49, from India, the ICU attending physician on the day of the incident in February 2009, was acquitted of refusing to resuscitate the patient on instructions from Adelsmayr.

Two days after issuing the non-resuscitation order, Adelsmayr shut down the man’s life-support equipment and increased his morphine dose from 5mg to nearly 12mg, resulting in a fatal heart attack.

The dead man was said to have suffered from heart problems for some time.

The two doctors were investigated after the incident by a medical committee at the hospital, which found them liable. The committee deemed their actions illegitimate and in violation of Dubai Health Authority regulations. They were then referred to the Dubai Public Prosecutor for criminal investigation. They denied the charges.

The committee head, Ashraf Mahmood Al Houthy, an Egyptian medical consultant, told prosecutors Adelsmayr had violated the medical practice code.

“The orders, which were issued verbally then backed up by writing, violated the medical practice code in Dubai, as the patient was conscious and not clinically dead,” he said.

Euthanasia is illegal under federal law and doctors are required to revive patients regardless of the patients’ wishes.

During the trial, M?A’s defence lawyer told the court that the nurse attending to the patient forged an electronic report changing the time of death to 30 minutes after the actual time, to ensure that M?A had arrived to make the death his responsibility.

She gave the court a report from Rashid Hospital to prove the forgery. The hospital declined to comment.

Adelsmayr told The National last night that two independent reports – by Dubai Health Authority and the Higher Committee for Medical Liabilty – had cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The DHA report says some of his actions were “clinically inappropriate but did not contribute directly (significantly) in causing harm to the patient”.

The doctor says the DHA report was incorrectly translated into Arabic. “Today’s judment is based on that report,” he said.