Alexandra L. Sobol writes:
Since as early as the fifth century, physicians have taken an oath to do no harm. But one California internist was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison on Friday after three of her patients overdosed and died while under her watch. Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng, 40, of Rowland Heights, California was convicted of second degree murder for prescribing exorbitant amounts of painkillers to her patients.
Dr. Tseng, alongside her husband, Dr. Gene Tu, operated a strip mall clinic where she wrote more than 27,000 prescriptions over a three-year period. Her patients were generally young and paid in cash.
Dr. Tseng ignored all of the red flags: she was notified by authorities on numerous occasions of her patients’ overdoses and received countless phone calls from her patients’ families, begging her to stop over-prescribing their loved ones.
Many physicians have faced similar charges. This case, however, is precedential, as Dr. Tseng is the first doctor to be convicted of murder in connection with a patient’s overdose. Just a few months ago, Dr. Gerald Klein of Palm Beach, Florida was acquitted after being charged with first degree murder for running what prosecutors termed a “pill mill.” In 2011, Dr. Conrad Murray was only convicted of involuntary manslaughter, not murder, in a widely-publicized trial after the death of Michael Jackson.
Many are concerned that Dr. Tseng’s verdict will cause physicians to drastically limit the number of painkillers they prescribe, even to those with a legitimate medical need, for fear of facing a similar fate. One thing is certain: state medical boards must better police their own to ensure that doctors like Tseng aren’t able fly under the radar for so long.
“The message this case sends is you can’t hide behind a white lab coat and commit crimes,” Deputy District Attorney John Niedermann remarked according to an article in the LA Times. “A lab coat and stethoscope are no shield.”