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'Dr Death' faces murder charges

Meraiah Foley in Sydney | June 10, 2005 13:40 IST

An Indian-trained surgeon linked by health officials to the deaths of at least 87 patients in Australia over two years should be charged with murder, a government inquiry recommended Friday.

Jayant Patel, an Indian-born US citizen, was hired by the Bundaberg Base Hospital in 2003 despite having been cited for negligence in the US states of Oregon and New York, where he was forced to surrender his license in 2001.

The Commission of Inquiry investigating Patel's practice at the Bundaberg hospital recommended in an interim report Friday that he be charged with murder in the death of James Edward Phillips, who died five days after Patel surgically removed part of his esophagus.

'Dr Death' may be in India

Several other doctors had refused to carry out the surgery on Phillips, who had several complications, according to testimony from a doctor and a nurse who worked with Patel.

The doctor, Peter Miach, said the operation was "fraught with danger" and that he "would have been very surprised if (the patient) would have survived."

In recommending the murder charge, the report said there was no doubt the surgery was "likely to endanger human life."

The inquiry also recommended that Patel-- dubbed "Dr. Death" by the Australian media -- be charged with negligence causing bodily harm in relation to an aboriginal patient, Marilyn Daisy, who developed gangrene in her leg after she was allegedly left without treatment for several weeks following an amputation performed by Patel.

Patel has also been accused of making false representations and fraud for allegedly falsifying his application to practice medicine in Australia by removing any mention of his disciplinary history in the United States.

Patel left Australia in April shortly after the allegations against him first surfaced, and his current whereabouts are unknown.

He was last believed to be in Portland, Oregon, where he has a house in a wealthy suburb.

Neighbors there said they had not seen Patel recently, and no one came to the door. Phone calls to the home also were not answered Friday.

If prosecutors decide to file a murder charge against Patel, he could face extradition to Australia under a 1974 treaty between the two countries. If tried and convicted under Australian law, Patel could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Australia probes 'Dr Death'

However, some media reports have suggested Patel may have returned to India, which has no extradition treaty with Australia.

Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said Interpol had been contacted about Patel's case and five detectives were also investigating.

"We will do everything possible to locate him and I'm very, very confident that our inquiries will be successful in that regard," he said.

Atkinson said police were reviewing medical records to find the strongest case against Patel, but that the former surgeon could face as many as five serious charges.

Patel's Oregon-based lawyer, Stephen Houze, refused to comment about his client's whereabouts.

"I have just received the interim report and I intend to give it very close scrutiny, but will not be able to make any public comments about the matter until I have reviewed it carefully," Houze said.

Patel, who was educated in India and completed his residency in the state of New York, was first cited for negligence in 1984 by New York health officials.

He moved to Oregon in 1989 and began working for Kaiser Permanente in Portland, but had his practice restricted by Kaiser in 1998 after a review of 79 of his cases.

The Oregon Board of Medical Examiners made Patel's restriction statewide in September 2000, and New York health officials forced Patel to surrender his license in that state in April 2001. His Oregon medical license also was revoked in April this year.

Patel was hired in Australia in 2003, but some of his former colleagues have said they became suspicious of his practice after noticing an usually high rate of complications resulting from his surgeries.

Patel has been linked by the Queensland state health department to the deaths of at least 87 of the 1,202 patients he treated during his two-year tenure at the rural Bundaberg Base Hospital. Several dozen other alleged malpractice cases are also under investigation.

(Associated Press writer Rukmini Callimachi in Portland, Oregon, contributed to this report.)

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Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

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