Los Angeles, which has seen many high-profile trials, is the site of a landmark criminal prosecution of a doctor who is being tried for murder arising from the prescription of narcotic drugs. Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng is being tried for second degree murder after some of her patients overdosed on drugs she prescribed. The case has drawn national attention and stirred debate over medical ethics. Los Angeles lawyer Henry R. Fenton discusses the case in this report.
Fenton thinks that the defense has a good case. “You make prescriptions to people” and hope that they will comply with the directions for the use of the medication. Abuse of drugs and drug overdoses may not be the fault of the physician. Physicians in busy practices do the best that they can, Fenton says. He is surprised that this is being pursued as a criminal case. And there has been concern that a guilty verdict in this case might have a chilling effect, making doctors reluctant to prescribe painkillers.
Fenton suggests that she may have language issues. “She came from overseas when she was fifteen.” Many excellent physicians in the U.S. have come here from other countries. But even in the case of excellent physicians, “their English isn’t always excellent.” Fenton opines that Dr. Tseng should be given the benefit of the doubt, as “she may not have understood what she was told.” Fenton thinks the problems should have been pursued as a civil case, not a murder trial. This might be an appropriate case for the medical board to examine.
As for prescriptions, the law requires that a prescribing physician have proper documentation and proper indications for a prescription, especially in the case of a narcotic drug. But, Fenton says, there are situations where people cannot live normal lives without the pain relief drugs. California has a database that allows a doctor to look up a patient’s name to see if the patient is “doctor shopping” in order to get prescriptions, or perhaps seeing several physicians at the same time. Fenton says that not all doctors are necessarily aware of the database, and its use has not become a standard of care.
If Dr. Tseng is convicted, she could be sentenced to life in prison.
Henry R. Fenton is a partner in the Fenton Law Group, LLP, Los Angeles, California. He specializes in providing representation and advice to health care professionals and health care entities and individuals, in the areas of fraud and abuse, medical staff, credentialing, Medicare and MediCal, reimbursement, Stark and Anti-kickback, DEA, FDA and HIPAA issues, business disputes, long term care, behavioral health and alcohol and substance abuse. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.