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PRICE OF CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE

By NBF News
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The four-year jail term imposed on late Michael Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray, by a Los Angeles Superior Court, typifies the price which people should pay for criminal negligence such as the one he committed.

Murray was alleged to have administered wrong drugs on the late pop star and was therefore charged for murder. After a six-week trial, it was established by the prosecutors that Murray's reckless use of the surgical anesthetic , propofol, to help Jackson sleep without proper monitoring equipment, led to the singer's death. Consequently, the trial judge, who called Murray's treatment of Jackson a 'cycle of horrible medicine' and 'medicine madness' sentenced Murray to four years imprisonment.

The charge, trial and consequent conviction of Murray should serve as a lesson to all who are involved in medical practice. The message it sends out to all concerned is that doctors, nurses and other medical personnel can be held accountable for acts of negligence. There is therefore the need for due diligence on the part of those involved in drug prescription and administration.

Perhaps Murray's criminal negligence would have gone unpunished if the courts in the United States were not alive to their responsibilities. The Los Angeles Superior Court which handled the case applied itself diligently to the issue at stake. It sat on the matter consistently until the case was successfully prosecuted. There were no long or indefinite adjournments. Consequently, the cause of justice was served.

The example from the United States should be of interest to us in Nigeria. Here, cases of negligence on the part of medical personnel abound. Many have died in Nigeria as a result of wrong prescription or administration of drugs. Unfortunately, the families of the victims were either not aware of the cause of the deaths of one of their own or were helpless even when they suspected foul play. That is why many believe that Nigeria is a place where anything goes. If we had a system of checks that can make medical officers accountable for their actions, they certainly will be more efficient in the discharge of their duties.

Our law courts should also borrow a leaf from what obtained in the United States over Murray's trial. The matter was not allowed to linger for years on end as is usually the case in Nigeria. Such a case in Nigeria would have been forgotten by the parties concerned owing to long adjournments, and justice would eventually have been denied as a result of the delay.

While we hope to attain the height which the developed world has reached in matters like this, we note with optimism that all is not lost in this regard. Perhaps the news that the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) has, in the past 10 years, sanctioned about 50 practitioners over diverse professional misconduct, should give us some hope. The council said that two of such cases eventually led to the total withdrawal of the practitioners' licenses.

Even though this is just like a drop of water in the ocean, we charge professional bodies in Nigeria, especially in the medical field, to be more diligent in monitoring the activities of their members. Human life is so precious and irreplaceable that those entrusted with it should handle it with utmost care. There are a number of quacks in the system that must be weeded out if there must be sanity in our medical profession. The onus is on the MDCN to cleanse the Augean Stable.

It should take steps that will expose criminal elements in the system. In fact, the Michael Jackson incident should serve as a wake-up call on our medical personnel. They should learn some lessons from it and begin, henceforth, to work towards saving lives and shun acts that can lead to avoidable loss of lives.