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Arrest of doctors over infants’ deaths stirs controversy
  • By Choi Gwang-seok
  • Published 2018.04.04 16:34
  • Updated 2018.04.04 16:34
  • comments 0

Two physicians and one nurse were arrested Wednesday over the deaths of four newborns at Ewha Womans University Hospital in Seoul late last year.

Earlier on Friday, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency filed an arrest warrant for the pediatric professor, Cho Soo-jin, who was the attending doctor at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the hospital, another physician Park Eun-ae, and a nurse with six years of working experience, on charges of negligent homicide.

Citing investigation results from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Forensic Service, police said the medical staffs broke the rules in preparing lipid nutrients for the babies at the NICU, which caused contamination of the injections with Citrobacter freundi.

“We have applied for arrest warrants for the people who have abused or neglected a wrong practice in serious violation of supervision,” police said.

Cho Soo-jin (center), a pediatric professor at Ewha Womans University Hospital, enters the Seoul Southern District Court, to receive a warrant review on Tuesday.

On early Wednesday, the Seoul Southern District Court issued arrest warrants for the two professors and a chief nurse, citing concerns that they might try to destroy evidence unless arrested. The court rejected the request for the arrest warrant for the nurse with six years of work, saying there was no concern for destroying proof or fleeing.

The medical community expressed shock over the court’s decision. Some pointed out that the court, pressured by the public opinion, made an unfair judgment. They said there was no concern that the doctors and nurses at Ewha hospital might destroy evidence or escape, and that judicial justice was missing.

Choo Moo-jin, president of the Korean Medical Association, said he would do his best to prevent any unfair harm to KMA member physicians.

Choi Dae-zip, who recently won the election to become new KMA president said, “The court’s decision ignored the principle of ‘no penalty without a law.’ The court’s decision to arrest the medical staffs who have no possibility of destroying evidence of fleeing was like a witch hunt pressured by the public opinion. Judicial justice was missing.”

Choi added that he was discussing response measures with the Korean Academy of Medical Sciences and the Medical Professors Association of Korea.

The Korean Pediatric Society (KPS) claimed that the judiciary should be responsible for a shortage of medical care caused by the court’s decision.

“Our society has been waiting for the investigation and health authorities to address fundamental problems to prevent such tragic incident. Not to allow such unfortunate event to occur again, the authorities should identify the exact routes of the infection,” the KPS said in a statement. “Based on that, they should improve the medical care for seriously ill patients and infection management. They should not try to close the case just by punishing a few medical staffs.”

Some other physicians said the government and the hospital’s foundation were to blame for making an unreasonable medical service structure. Many others said they felt regretful about being a doctor in a system where people demand doctors take responsibility for unavoidable incidents.

However, Cho Seong-cheol, who represents the group of the victims of the Ewha hospital incident, said the court’s issuing warrants was recognition that the medical staffs breached directions and rules regarding infection.

“It’s absurd that the medical community claims that the medical staffs are not guilty because their actions were not intentional,” Cho said.

Physician groups’ assertion of their innocence is causing a second and third pain for the bereaved family who is living in pain and shock every day due to the death of their babies, Cho added.

On the other hand, physicians’ posting of “RIP, Korea’s Intensive Care Unit” is spreading on the social networking sites including Facebook, after the news of the arrest of the Ewha hospital staffs.


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