An obstetrics-gynecology clinic’s doctor, who received a jail term for an accidental homicide of a fetus during labor, has been found not guilty in an appeals court.
The court ruled that although there was partial negligence during the delivery, it was difficult to recognize a causal relationship between the death of the fetus and the neglect.
The Incheon District Court on Wednesday rejected the judgment of the first instance -- eight months in prison -- on the obstetrician/gynecologist surnamed Lee, who had been indicted on charges of fatal manslaughter, and found him not guilty.
Citing recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the court said Lee was negligent in checking the heartbeats of the fetus every 30 minutes from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the day of the incident. However, the court did not recognize a causal relationship between Lee’s negligence and the death of the fetus, saying the verdict of the first trial was unfair.
“If Lee had discovered a decline in the fetal heartbeats, he must have performed a Caesarean section. But as an operator of a small ob/gyn clinic, Lee must have spent about an hour to prepare a C section,” the court said. “Even if he had found the slowing heartbeats and performed a C section, it is difficult to conclude that he could prevent the fetal death.”
The court went on to say that many fetal deaths have unclear causes and that there was no autopsy on the fetus in the case.
“As the specific cause of the fetal death and the time of death are unknown, it is still possible that he could not prevent the fetal death even if he had measured the heartbeats of the fetus. The evidence submitted by the prosecutor alone is insufficient to suggest that there is a significant causal relationship between Lee’s negligence and the death of the fetus,” the court said.
The medical community welcomed the ruling.
“The doctor treated the patient sincerely and helped the delivery of the fetus. But he was treated like a murderer and nearly went to jail. Now, he is free from such unjust situation,” said Choo Moo-jin, president of the Korean Medical Association. “The latest ruling is significant, as such an incident can happen to all obstetricians.”
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