A doctor who intentionally gave overdoses of fentanyl to patients has been found not guilty of murder in Ohio. William Husel was accused of killing at least 14 terminally ill patients and his medical license was suspended by the State Medical Board of Ohio earlier this year.
In 2018, the Mount Carmel Health System began investigating Husel. At the time, 34 patients were known to be affected. Ron O’Brien, then-prosecutor for Franklin County, said that Husel was “administering doses of fentanyl at a level that they internally believed were inappropriate and not for a legitimate medical purpose.”
Authorities had been notified by Mount Carmel executives, according to former CEO and president Ed Lamb. O’Brien said the fentanyl dosages “were designed to hasten the death of the patients that were being treated.” Some patients were given dosages as high as 2,000 micrograms, causing the patient to die with just five minutes. This, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, is known to be a fatal dose.
Husel originally received 25 murder charges, but 11 of them — with fentanyl doses below 1,000 micrograms — were dropped, leading to anger among the victims’ families. “It doesn’t make sense. It’s not enough? It was enough to kill her but it’s not enough to prosecute him,” Nicole Thomas, whose mother Jan was killed, told CNN.
Her brother Sean added, “[T]o hear that 11 of these cases were dismissed, she is dying all over again.”
Chris Allison, whose husband Troy was one of the patients to whom Husel administered 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl, said there was no consent. “They said they’re going to give him something to make him comfortable,” she said. “Then fine, give him something. He didn’t say ‘I’m going to give him 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl and he’ll be dead before you enter the room.’ That would’ve been a different conversation.”
Many of the patients were on ventilators and intensive care, and their families previously told WBNS that Husel pressured them to approve do-not-resuscitate orders.
Franklin County prosecutor David Zeyen argued that it isn’t acceptable to kill someone simply because they’re elderly, seriously ill, or already dying. “If you hasten a person’s death, even if their death is as sure as the sun is going to rise in the morning, if you hasten that along, you have caused their death under the eyes of the law,” he said. Over 50 witnesses, including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists who worked with Husel, testified for the prosecution. Just one person testified for the defense.
While it’s impossible to know the motivations of the jury, it’s equally impossible to not notice the parallels between Husel’s actions and the emergence of assisted suicide. Increasingly, the public has deemed it acceptable to kill someone because they are elderly, ill, or disabled; to let them die naturally, on their own time, is derided as “undignified.” With that framework in mind and Husel’s victory in court, it seems likely that more doctors may feel empowered to act similarly, justifying their actions by framing them as compassionate and painless.
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