“The District Court hasn’t found that it’s been sufficiently proven that a crime has been committed. Nor has the court found that it’s been proven that the doctor did anything that wasn’t medically motivated,” the court wrote in a statement.
The case stems from the death of a 3-month-old infant girl at the hospital in September 2008. The girl was terminally ill and had serious brain damage after having been born 15 weeks premature. The birth was complicated and the baby was born unconscious due to a lack of oxygen.
In consultations with the parents, the girl was taken off life support on September 20th, 2008.
A month later, the girl’s parents filed a complaint with police alleging the newborn hadn’t received proper treatment after an autopsy revealed the infant had received abnormally high doses of the anesthetic thiopental.
During the trial, the parents said that the care their baby had received prior to her death was “beneath contempt”.
The case, which has received significant media coverage since the baby’s death, is exceptional because legal procedures against doctors are very rare in Sweden, where malpractice cases usually go before the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) with no criminal ramifications.
However, despite the agency ruling against malpractice, prosecutor Peter Claeson charged the doctor with manslaughter in February 2010, on suspicion of having deliberately having administered a high dose of the thiopental in combination with morphine, in order to speed up the baby’s death.
The case has raised concerns in medical circles, leaving doctors uncertain and wary of performing certain operations for fear of legal consequences.
The doctor, who faced six to 10 years in prison if convicted, had pleaded not guilty and denied having administered thiopental.
The court said it could not be determined exactly how high a dose the baby had received, nor how the baby received the anaesthetic, and therefore the doctor could not be found guilty.
Friday’s not-guilty verdict therfore comes as a relief to the hospital, when the 100 pages long ruling finally freed the doctor from all charges.
“We can’t really say anything yet, before reading everything the court wrote. But of course everyone here at the hospital are very relived over the not-guilty verdict,” said Klas Östman, head of informations at the Karolinska University hospital, which the Astrid Lindgren Children’s hospital is affiliated, to news agency TT.
Prosecutor Peter Claeson was surprised at the verdict from the district court.
“When suspicions arise of a serious offence, it is my duty to investigate and that is what I have done. I expected a conviction. I did that up until 11 o’clock this morning, ” he said to TT.
Marta Christensen, the deputy head of Stockholm’s Association of Medical Practitioners, said recently the case had left many doctors rattled.
“To question yourself is part of the job but now maybe they think things over a bit more and that means longer decision-making processes that in the end can unnecessarily delay medical care. A sense of insecurity has plagued the entire medical corps,” Christensen told Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).