A surgeon dubbed “Dr. Death” in Australia for a string of botched operations was sentenced on Thursday to seven years in prison for killing three patients and permanently harming another.
A jury had convicted Indian-born U.S. citizen Jayant Patel (60) two days ago of three counts of manslaughter and one of causing grievous bodily harm while he was a surgeon at a hospital in Queensland state from 2003 to 2005.
The sentence comes more than 25 years after questions were first raised about Dr. Patel's competency and ends a five-year saga for patients and their families who accuse Dr. Patel of irreparably damaging their lives.
At the trial, Dr. Patel was accused of being driven by a “toxic ego” to perform surgeries that U.S. authorities had banned him from undertaking, of misdiagnosing patients and employing sloppy and antiquated techniques.
“The community denounces your repeated serious disregard for the welfare of the four patients,” Justice John Byrne of the Queensland Supreme Court told Dr. Patel.
Prosecutor Ross Martin told a sentencing hearing on Thursday there was no record of a worse case of medical criminal negligence in Australia, and urged Justice Mr. Byrne to imprison Dr. Patel for at least 10 years.
Arguing for a suspended sentence with no prison time, defence lawyer Michael Byrne said Dr. Patel was a hardworking and well-intentioned man who had been humiliated during the long-running trial.
Dr. Patel was sentenced to seven years in prison for each count of manslaughter and three years for the grievous bodily harm charge, though Justice Mr. Byrne ruled that all would be served concurrently. Dr. Patel graduated from medical school in Jamnangar, India, in 1976 and went to New York state two years later.
In 1984, New York health officials fined Dr. Patel and placed him on probation for failing to examine patients before surgery. He later worked at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Portland, Oregon, which banned him from liver and pancreatic surgeries in 1998 after dozens of complaints. The Oregon Board of Medical Examiners later cited him for negligence.
In 2003, he took up a posting at the Bundaberg Base Hospital, a mid-size facility in Bundaberg, a small city in Queensland on the fringe of the Great Barrier Reef.
Dr. Patel left Australia in 2005, just as questions began to be raised about his record. He was arrested by the FBI in 2008 and extradited for trial.
A government inquiry prompted by media reports that dubbed Patel “Dr. Death” found that he may have contributed directly to 13 deaths at Bundaberg.