Swedish court finds Italian star surgeon guilty of ‘causing bodily harm’

A court in Sweden has found the scandal-hit Italian surgeon Paolo Macchiarini guilty of a serious crime causing bodily harm for one of three experimental operations implanting synthetic windpipes in patients. 

Swedish court finds Italian star surgeon guilty of 'causing bodily harm'
Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, centre, and Walter Giovannini, the director of the AOU Careggi hospital, meet the journalists in Florence, in 2010, after announcing they have successfully transplanted a windpipe using an innovative procedure that uses stem cells to allow a donated trachea to regenerate tissue. Photo: AP/Lorenzo Galassi

The court ruled that the operation was not justified on the basis of established medical science or experience.

“The benefits which could be expected from the treatment were quite simply not proportional to the risks which came with the operation,” the judges in the case, Ewa Lindbäck and Björn Skånsberg, said in a statement

The court freed Macchiarini in two other cases, ruling that the operations had been defensible as a last resort, due to the perilous state of the patients’ health. 

It also ruled that he was not guilty of carrying out an intentional assault, but was rather guilty of causing harm through negligence. 

“The court finds that the surgeon realised the risks of the procedure for which he is now sentenced. However, nothing has emerged to suggest that he was indifferent to the fact that the procedure would lead to severe bodily injuries and long-term, severe suffering,” the statement reads.

“He should therefore not be convicted of an intentional assault offence but of offence of causing bodily harm through negligence.”

Macchiarini won praise in 2011 after claiming to have performed the world’s first synthetic trachea transplants using stem cells, while he was a surgeon at Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital.

The experimental procedure was hailed as a breakthrough in regenerative medicine and made the Italian a star until it became clear that the operation did not work, as well as allegations that the procedure had been carried out on at least one person who had not been critically ill at the time of the surgery.

The first patient’s symptoms became progressively worse in the months after his operation, forcing him to return to the hospital over and over again until he died in January 2014. An autopsy found that the plastic windpipe had dislodged almost completely and was surrounded by dead tissue, fluid, and fungal infection. 

The second patient died suddenly, sixteen weeks after the operation. The third patient’s implant started to collapse in the spring of 2013, and was then reaffixed. She suffered further complications, going in for further surgery more than 200 times until he she died in 2017. 

Macchiarini has denied guilt, claiming that his operations on the three patients were life-saving, and that the implants had been their only chances of survival. 

The surgeon was handed a suspended sentence, which in Sweden means that if he were to commit another crime during a two-year probation period, the court would re-evaluate his sentence.

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WHO expects more monkeypox-related deaths in Europe

The World Health Organization's European office said Saturday that more monkeypox-related deaths can be expected, following reports of the first fatalities outside Africa, while stressing that severe complications were still be rare.

WHO expects more monkeypox-related deaths in Europe

“With the continued spread of monkeypox in Europe, we will expect to see more deaths,” Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at WHO Europe, said in a statement.

Smallwood emphasised that the goal needs to be “interrupting transmission quickly in Europe and stopping this outbreak”.

However, Smallwood stressed that in most cases the disease heals itself without the need for treatment.

“The notification of deaths due to monkeypox does not change our assessment of the outbreak in Europe. We know that although self-limiting in most cases, monkeypox can cause severe complications,” Smallwood noted.

The Spanish health ministry recorded a second monkeypox-related death on Saturday, a day after Spain and Brazil reported their first fatalities.

The announcements marked what are thought to be the first deaths linked to the current outbreak outside Africa.

Spanish authorities would not give the specific cause of death for the fatalities pending the outcome of an autopsy, while Brazilian authorities underlined that the man who died had “other serious conditions”.

“The usual reasons patients might require hospital care include help in managing pain, secondary infections, and in a small number of cases the need to manage life-threatening complications such as encephalitis,” Smallwood explained.

According to the WHO, more than 18,000 cases have been detected throughout the world outside of Africa since the beginning of May, with the majority of them in Europe.

The WHO last week declared the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency.

As cases surge globally, the WHO on Wednesday called on the group currently most affected by the virus — men who have sex with men — to limit their sexual partners.

Early signs of the disease include a high fever, swollen lymph glands and a chickenpox-like rash.

The disease usually heals by itself after two to three weeks, sometimes taking a month.

A smallpox vaccine from Danish drug maker Bavarian Nordic, marketed under the name Jynneos in the United States and Imvanex in Europe, has also been found to protect against monkeypox.