William Husel stands during a brief pause in his trial Tuesday, February 22, 2022 at the Franklin County Common Pleas Courthouse in Columbus, Ohio.
Fred Squillante | The Columbus broadcast via AP
An Ohio doctor was acquitted on Wednesday of speeding up the deaths of several critically ill patients by ordering large doses of the powerful painkiller fentanyl.
William Husel faced 14 cases of murder – one for each patient. He was not guilty in all the cases.
Juries discussed over seven days in a lawsuit that lasted about two months. It has been one of the biggest cases of its kind against a health professional in the United States, linking themes of medical treatment and ethics and the amount of opioids appropriate in end-of-life comfort care.
Husel, whose medical license was suspended in January 2019, risks life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years if he was found guilty in just one case of murder. The jury was also allowed to consider a minor charge of attempted murder, which carries a sentence of several years in prison. Juries had to weigh whether Husel, 46, acted as permitted under Ohio law when he, prosecutors say, ordered 10 times the amount of fentanyl that expert witnesses said was the norm in non-surgical settings. Most ICU patients who received 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl were in their 70s and 80s and needed help breathing on fans, although a few were as young as their late 30s.
The patients that Husel treated from 2015 to 2018 were rushed to the Mount Carmel Health System in the Columbus area with a range of ailments, including cancer, pneumonia and organ failure.
Franklin County prosecutors called more than 50 witnesses, including medical experts, family members of the patients who died, and Husel’s former colleagues.
“Even if their death is assured when the sun rises in the morning, if you hurry it, you caused their death in the eyes of the law,” Franklin County Assistant Prosecutor David Zeyen said in a concluding argument.
Hussel’s defense team, led by high-profile lawyer Jose Baez, argued before the jury that no maximum doses of fentanyl were considered illegal under state law and that his client was trying to provide comfort treatment to people who were dying or near death.
“Why would this man risk his family, his career, 17 years of trying to be a doctor, every single thing he worked for, to hasten someone’s death or kill them?” said Baez.
Husel, who did not testify, has not spoken publicly or given media interviews since the allegations surfaced in a series of lawsuits families filed in early 2019. About 35 families filed lawsuits for unlawful death against him, the hospital and other employees; several of the families settled for a total of about $ 13.5 million.
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