Nashville, TN

A nurse's drug mistake kills the patient, but are criminal charges the appropriate response?

B.R. Shenoy

This week, RaDonda Vaught, a former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse, goes on trial in Nashville on accusations of reckless murder and felony mistreatment of an impaired adult in the death of Charlene Murphey, a 75-year-old patient.

Murphey died on December 27, 2017, after suffering a heart attack.

Vaught faces up to 12 years in jail if convicted of reckless murder.

YahooNews has provided a timeline here to help clear the confusion surrounding the case.

Vaught allegedly gave Murphey the paralytic vecuronium instead of the sedative midazolam (Versed) for her anxiety before a PET scan.

Vaught recognized her mistake as soon as she noticed it and confessed that she did not double-check the medicine before administering the incorrect dose to her patient. However, she also maintains that the error only occurred due to technological issues and defective measures in place at Vanderbilt at the time.

She has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The state medical board took no action against her at first.

The Nashville District Attorney's office told the Tennessean that the decision to prosecute Vaught was primarily because she delivered the lethal drug after bypassing the dispensing machine's safety feature.

Vanderbilt fired Vaught in January 2018, and the Tennessee Board of Nursing revoked her license in 2021.

Vanderbilt was not punished for the deadly medication mistake.

Following the hearing, Vaught's criminal defense counsel, Peter Strianse, maintained that Vanderbilt had some responsibility for Murphey's death.

According to Kaiser Health News, the healthcare community is shocked and outraged by the consequences of a criminal charge of this sort for future patient safety and healthcare professional morale,

Per The Tennessean, her case is a rare instance of a health care provider facing years in jail for a medical blunder. In most cases, fatal mistakes are dealt by licensing boards and civil courts. Experts say convictions like Vaught's loom significant for a profession afraid of being prosecuted for such errors, especially when her case rests on an automated medicine distribution system that many nurses use every day.

Do you feel criminal charges are appropriate in this case? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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