The conservator for the two very young sons of a man who shot and killed his wife (the sons’ mother) in a church parking lot filed a medical malpractice case against the nurse practitioner and others who prescribed multiple anti-depressants and mood-altering drugs to the man that the medical malpractice case claimed changed his brain chemistry that caused him to murder his wife. The sons had previously filed a wrongful death claim against their father that was settled for $1 million.
The man was taking seven medications at the time he committed the murder (the man pleaded guilty to the murder and is serving a 20 years to life sentence with the possibility of parole) that the medical malpractice claim alleged had negative effects that were not properly monitored by his health care providers. The medical malpractice claim further alleged that the nurse practitioner failed to consult with a licensed medical doctor with regard to some of the medications, as required under Utah law.
This Utah medical malpractice case has caused much discussion with regard to the interplay among personal responsibility, criminal intent, criminal actions, and medical malpractice. The prosecutors argued that the man was solely responsible for his actions (he accepted responsibility for his actions when he pleaded guilty to the murder), which they alleged were strictly criminal in nature and that there was no credible evidence that the man was unable to form the criminal intent to kill his wife. The prosecutors rejected the claim that the medications that the man had been prescribed and had taken caused a chemical change in his brain that was the root of his criminal behavior. The medical malpractice claim alleges that the combination of the multiple medications without proper monitoring was a cause (but not the sole cause) of the man’s action in killing his wife.
There is no doubt that medications and other ingested substances, whether intentionally or unintentionally, can change the body’s chemistry. The critical questions in the Utah man’s case appear to be whether the medications, whether alone or in combination, did in fact change the Utah man’s brain chemistry, how the change could be objectively measured or determined, how the change affected the man’s cognitive and behavioral abilities, whether those changes were in fact responsible, in whole or in part, for the Utah man forming the intent to shoot and kill his wife, and whether the change in brain chemistry prevented the man from understanding that his lethal action was wrong and prevented him from deciding not to take action on his thoughts or intention to shoot his wife.
An important issue in the Utah medical malpractice case is whether the man’s action in shooting and killing his wife was foreseeable, even assuming the nurse practitioner’s medical care of the man is found to be negligent and that the negligence caused a change in the man’s brain chemistry.
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