Anaesthetist accused of poisoning patients in order to ‘save’ them

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A criminal investigation has been launched against a French doctor over the poisoning of 17 people in France, reports BBC News. Frédéric Péchier, an anaesthetist, has already been investigated for seven other cases of poisoning, in total leading to nine deaths. Prosecutors allege he deliberately tampered with his colleagues’ anaesthesia pouches to create an emergency and show off his talents.

Péchier has been accused of giving patients lethal injections to trigger heart attacks in order to pose as a hero for bringing them back to life. Péchier denies all allegations, and faces a life sentence if found guilty.

Sometimes he failed and seven people died as a result, prosecutors claim.

His lawyer, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, is quoted in the report as saying that the investigation proved nothing. “There is a possibility that Dr Pechier committed those poisonings but this hypothesis is nothing but a hypothesis,” said Borgne. “The presumption of innocence must be stressed.”

An examining judge in the eastern city of Besançon placed Péchier, 47, under investigation in May 2017 for the first seven poisonings. The doctor was later released but barred from practising medicine.

Prosecutor Etienne Manteaux said in the report that Péchier had been “the common denominator” in each instance, and had been in open conflict with colleagues. “He was most often found close to the operating theatre” when the cases occurred, said Manteaux, and had made quick diagnosis on which action to take, “even when nothing allowed anyone to suspect an overdose of potassium or local anaesthesia”.

Manteaux said investigators had looked into more than 66 “serious undesirable events”, namely suspicious cardiac arrests during low-risk operations. But he admitted there was only circumstantial evidence against Péchier. The latest accusations are from these cases, involving patients aged four to 80.

French health authorities consider a “serious undesirable event” one that was “unexpected given the state of health and pathology of the patient” and has serious consequences, including death.

A four-year-old, a boy named only as Teddy, suffered a cardiac arrest twice during an operation to remove his tonsils in February 2016. He was resuscitated by Péchier.

“The charges rest on a series of concordant elements,” Manteaux said. He added that Péchier was “omnipresent” in handling the resuscitation of patients after heart failures and the doctor’s colleagues found he was suspiciously fast in diagnosing anaesthetic overdoses, the prosecutor said.

The incidents were more numerous during periods of “intense conflict” between Péchier and his colleagues, Manteaux said.

Péchier has denied the claims, and his lawyers have accused police of tampering with statements he gave during initial questioning. “Whatever the outcome of all this, my career is over,” he is quoted in the report as saying. “You cannot trust a doctor who, at one point, has been labelled a poisoner… My family is broken and I am afraid for my children.”

BBC News report

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