Sidney Morning Herald wrote:'Overdose' doctor walks free
October 27, 2006 - 7:23PM
Homeopath and general practitioner who admitted prescribing the wrong type of morphine to a patient who later died of an overdose has been given an 18-month suspended jail term. Retiree Wayne Ritchie suffered chronic back pain for which he could find little medical relief. When his doctor refused to give him the pain killing drug morphine in August 2004, he sought the advice of homeopath and general practitioner Gary Gow.
Gow, a doctor of almost 30 years experience, offered Mr Ritchie homeopathic remedies for his ailments, seeing morphine as a last resort. Eventually bowing to pressure from the 52-year-old patient, Gow prescribed morphine tartrate - a powerful drug designed to be administered gradually, in small doses, to terminally ill cancer patients with severe intractable pain.
Twelve hours after injecting himself with 120mg of the drug at his NSW south coast home on October 3, 2004, Mr Ritchie died of an overdose. Gow, 53, pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the death, admitting he wrongly prescribed morphine tartrate instead of morphine sulphate, and failed to issue any dosage instructions. NSW District Court judge Peter Berman today said Gow had made a "series of serious mistakes with terrible consequences".
"By his plea of guilty Dr Gow accepts that he breached the duty of care which he owed to Mr Ritchie in a way that was so serious that it merited criminal punishment," Judge Berman told the court. "Mr Ritchie would not have died if Dr Gow had done what was required of him." However, Gow was "a man of impeccable character, who is deeply ashamed of his mistake and who recognises the gravity of his error," Judge Berman said.
In suspending the sentence, the judge commended Gow for fully admitting his errors and not attempting to justify them in any way, nor shift the blame to Mr Ritchie, as was "open" to him to do. Judge Berman also criticised the pharmacist for failing to pick up the mistake when filling the prescription.
"That is of course not to excuse Dr Gow's errors but it is to recognise that people, even professional people, make mistakes, and systems are set up to prevent a single mistake having a catastrophic consequence," he said. Judge Berman described Gow as a "caring and compassionate" doctor who was "deeply remorseful" for what he had done, in a period of great stress in his life.
He handed Gow an 18-month suspended jail term, with a non-parole period of 12 months, letting him walk free on the condition he be of good behaviour for the period of his sentence. The doctor offered no comment as he left the court complex accompanied by his wife. Mr Ritchie's partner, Andrea Sant, and other members of his family also declined to speak outside the court.
A spokesman for the NSW Medical Board confirmed Gow was still eligible to practise, but had prescription limitations imposed on him from the date he was charged. The board was investigating and would meet in the coming days to discuss the case, the spokesman said.
Link: Overdose Doctor Walks Free