Kansas Professional License Defense Lawyer Asks: Homicide or Compassionate Care?

In Kansas, a physician can be tried for murder for over-administering painkillers designed to relieve chronic and/or acute pain. From a pure ethical prospective, palliative care must not be denied to a suffering patient. Over-prescribing, with the intent to kill, however, may cross the line of sound medical ethics to murder. This intersection of medical ethics and criminal jurisprudence can result in a conflation of the healthcare professionals’ duties toward their patients. Accordingly, the highest attention and consideration must be given to the decision to administer higher doses of painkilling prescriptions that could cause an overdose, resulting in premature death. Such a decision can adversely affect licensing privileges as well as criminal responsibility. Attorney Danielle Sanger has years of experience defending medical professionals in licensing actions and promises to vigorously defend your license from adverse action by the State Board of Healing Arts.

Healthcare professionals are well versed in the six core values of medical ethics. Palliative care, according to the Indian Journal of Palliative Care, implicates the ethical mandates of patient autonomy, beneficence, or non-malfeasance, and justice.  Thus, healthcare professionals must counsel a patient facing end-of-life decisions resulting from terminal illness to guide them in making informed choices over their care to the extent possible.   This is especially true with regard to pain management.  The author of the article argues that pain management and relief is a basic “human right.”

No one truly wants to see their loved one suffer, especially when the patient is terminal. Since physicians are not trained to end a life, administering a high dose of narcotics to sedate, or even cause a fatal overdose, could lead to licensing sanctions as well as a criminal prosecution depending upon the physician’s intent.  This is a fine line. Kansas’s legislature passed a statute barring so-called “mercy killings” and prohibits any act or omission that ends a life in a manner inconsistent with the “natural process of dying.”

This fine line was tested in the case of State v. Naramore, wherein the Kansas Supreme Court reversed a physician’s conviction for attempted murder of a terminally ill cancer patient. Dr. Naramore administered high doses of pain killers. Dr. Naramore administered these high doses to combat the substantial pain from which his patient was suffering. The doctor, as well as the patient’s family, observed that the patient’s heart rate and respiration slowed subsequent to ingesting the pain medication. The administration of the medication resulted in a “double effect,” that is, the relief of excruciating pain through high doses of drugs, which, by virtue of the high doses, hastened death while primarily relieving pain.

The Kansas Supreme Court reversed the conviction. The Court recognized that the American Medical Association took the position that administering high doses of medication to combat pain was medically appropriate despite the effect of the drug “shortening life.” The Court noted that there is a fine line between a physician offering palliative care and euthanasia. Palliative care is designed to administer medication to relieve pain, which may then cause death. Conversely, euthanasia is the administering of medication to cause death and thereby eliminate suffering. More to the point, the Court cited the Kansas Association on Osteopathic Medicine’s opinion that failure to administer pain medication that causes a patient to suffer unbearable pain is “medical malpractice.” In the final analysis, the Court held that based upon all of the evidence heard at trial, much of which was from competing experts, Dr. Naramore was entitled to an acquittal.

Contact A Medical Licensing Attorney For Guidance

If you are a medical professional facing these difficult decisions, consulting Attorney Danielle Sanger, who has vast experience in licensing matters, can help. Kansas Professional Licensing Defense Lawyer Danielle Sanger has committed her career to vigorously fighting to protect the professional licenses of medical professionals in Kansas and Missouri. Call Attorney Danielle Sanger at 785-979-4353 today for a free, no-obligation consultation.