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Preventing arrests in the intensive care unit
  1. Joe Brierley
  1. Correspondence to Dr Joe Brierley, Paediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, Great Ormond Street, London WC1N3JH, UK; joe.brierley{at}gosh.nhs.uk

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The police have a duty to protect the public and to investigate any, and all, serious crimes. The article by Lynøe and Leijonhufvud raises important issues about the interaction between hospital staff and police in cases in which suggested medical negligence crosses into the arena of serious legal offences, which range from murder and homicide to serious assault.1

Although arising in Sweden, the issues raised in this case are generalisable. While our understanding is limited to the journal article there seem several uncontested facts: a children's intensive care doctor was arrested, charged and acquitted of the mercy killing of an infant in a Swedish hospital. The baby had sustained severe brain injury prior to this clinician's involvement, either due to birth asphyxia or to an accidental overdose of salt. The baby died after withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment (WLST) with parental agreement. At a later stage, the family asked the police to investigate the initial salt incident. Despite the team attending the baby after WLST stating that only a morphine infusion was administered, a 25-day postmortem femoral artery sample showed ‘an extremely high level of thiopentone’ (a powerful barbiturate), although no control sample (eg, intracardiac) was analysed.

Healthcare staff are subject to the laws of their country. However, Lynøe and Leijonhufvud raise the issue of a conflict between what they term ‘soft law’—the rules, regulations and ethics of healthcare practice and the law of the land. …

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