Fri, Sep 02, 2011 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: A slap on the wrist for negligence

The Department of Health demonstrated stern conviction in righting a wrong when it fined National Taiwan University Hospital and National Cheng Kung University Hospital NT$150,000 each for transplanting organs from a person with HIV into five patients hoping for a new lease on life.

Bravo. There are people who spend more money on a bicycle than the fine the department handed down. Five people have been thrown into uncertainty right when they thought they had hope and what does the department do? It slaps the wrist of the hospitals that messed up.

It is likely there will be more punishments to come — those found responsible for the botched transplants face jail time if the recipients develop AIDS, but this first round of tough love has failed to satisfy.

Article 11 of the HIV Infection Control and Patient Rights Protection Act (人類免疫缺乏病毒傳染防治及感染者權益保障條例) says those found to have failed to adequately test an organ for HIV before a transplant operation can be fined between NT$30,000 and NT$150,000, so the health department decided to throw the book — in this case something lighter, like a pamphlet, would be a more appropriate metaphor — at the two hospitals because of the severity of the incident.

However, the law falls far short of an appropriate punishment for such negligence. Standard operating procedures were already in place to ensure that the organs should not have been used. The transplant team in charge should have checked the results of the HIV test, which was stored on their computer system, rather than just rely on a telephone call to ascertain the safety of the organs. They failed to do so and five people who thought a new organ would prolong their life may have been infected with a potentially fatal virus.

This instance of negligence on the part of staff at two of the nation’s top hospitals, followed by light or nonexistent punishments, is not the first such case, and likely won’t be the last. One doesn’t have to look too far in the past to see others like it.

On Aug. 19, the Chinese-language Apple Daily reported that a pregnant anesthesiologist at Chang-Gung Memorial Hospital in Linkou District (林口), New Taipei City (新北市), likely contracted HIV from a patient, reportedly mostly because of the negligence of her colleagues.

The doctor was responding to a call for help from an emergency room when she saw a patient in urgent need of care, surrounded by four immobile doctors. According to the newspaper, she immediately began to attempt to stabilize the patient, who began spurting blood, which landed on her face and hands. She kept working on the patient while her colleagues shied away, grabbing plastic-shield facemasks to protect their eyes. They reportedly waited for the unprotected pregnant doctor to stabilize the patient before telling her that the patient had HIV.

Chang Gung hospital officials told the newspaper that they would continue to monitor the anesthesiologist’s health, but that she had become depressed and cut off all her hair. So far, the hospital has decided not to punish the four doctors who decided to protect themselves rather than tell their colleague that the patient was HIV positive.

Contracting HIV is no longer the almost automatic death sentence it was two decades ago. People with HIV/AIDS who receive proper medical treatment and drug therapy can live for years. Precautions must still be taken to prevent transmission of the disease, but society cannot avoid to return to the hysteria and mistreatment that was so prevalent, even among medical professionals, in the 1980s.

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