Last Fall we briefly covered the case of Doctor Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng, a southern California physician. Last week an L.A. Superior Court judge sentenced the Rowland Heights MD to 30 years in state prison, for the murders of three of her patients who fatally overdosed. This ended a landmark case that some medical experts say could change how doctors nationwide handle prescriptions.
Well gee, ya think that might be a bright idea? Prescription drugs kill 18,000 Americans a year? Do you think doctors ought to maybe “rethink” their drug-pushing habits? What an outrageous thought. And maybe to leverage some critical thinking, How about a court-ordered mandate, forcing them to attend 300 funerals every week? You think that might get their attention?
This doctor Tseng’s prison sentencing came after a Los Angeles jury last year found her guilty of second-degree murder – the second time a physician has been convicted of murder in the U.S. for overprescribing drugs.
Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli, told the court that Tseng “tried to blame her patients, the pharmacists and even other doctors, rather than take responsibility for her own actions.”
The 8-week trial included 77 witnesses and more than 250 pieces of evidence.
Tseng, wearing a blue jail jumpsuit, apologized to the victims’ families and her own family.
Tseng, age 46, a general practitioner, is among a growing number of doctors being charged with murder for prescribing narcotics that kill patients.
Some so-called experts say they fear that Tseng’s conviction will usher in a new reality: doctors becoming afraid of prosecution, and then hesitant to prescribe painkillers to patients who need them. They say the trial has already had a “deterrent effect” on other doctors and has captured the medical community’s attention.
What a bunch of lab coat whiners. Instead of complaining, what they ought to be doing is listening to their brighter colleagues, like Doctor Peter Staats, president of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. He says this: “When you use the word ‘murder, of course it’s going to have a chilling effect. But any doctor who is prescribing pills knowing that they are being abused, shouldn’t be called a doctor. That’s not the practice of medicine,” Staats said.
Staats said he believes an aggressive medical board – and not prosecutors – should be going after reckless doctors.
Aggressive Medical Board? Sorry, Doc. That’s a contradiction in terms. There is simply no such animal. Not in this country.
Doctor Francis Riegler, a pain specialist who works in Palmdale California, says he followed Tseng’s trial too, and has talked with fellow doctors across the nation about the case.
“We all agree,” he said. “If you’re doing the right thing – if you simply do your job correctly, you don’t need to worry about being prosecuted for murder.”
Our point exactly.
During Tseng’s trial, for example, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Niedermann told jurors that there were “red flags” in her prescribing habits. More than a dozen times, the prosecutor said, a coroner or law enforcement officer called with the same dark news: “Your patient has died of a drug O.D.” Her prescribing habits, Niedermann said, remained absolutely unchanged. She went right on drugging the druggies. And why not? Their drug habits made them walking, talking ATM machines.
The prosecutor told jurors that Tseng would even falsify prescription names so people could get twice as many pills; her staff testified she openly referred to her patients as “druggies” and routinely faked medical records.
Her motivation, Niedermann said, was money. Between 2007-2010, when Tseng joined the Rowland Heights clinic where her husband worked, (and her husband has managed to step into legal doo-doo of his own) her office brought in $5 million.
Tseng was convicted of murder in the deaths of Vu Nguyen, 28, of Lake Forest; Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert; and Joey Rovero, 21, an Arizona State University student. And the ugly fact is, although this lab coat loon was merely found guilty of 3 murders, investigators discovered that at least a dozen other patients died too.
Tseng was only charged with killing 3 people because other factors were involved in many of the deaths, such as drugs also being prescribed by other doctors, and one possible suicide. Prosecutors named three other Orange County men who also died under her care: Matthew Stavron, 24; Naythan Kenney, 34; and Ryan Latham, 21. And civil lawsuits have been filed by victims’ families against Tseng for the deaths of Ryan Winter, 20, of Aliso Viejo, and Riley Russo, 20, of Laguna Niguel. Tseng has already paid $275,000 to Rovero’s parents and $225,000 for yet another death, that of Nicholas Mata, 22, of Huntington Beach.
The jury also found Tseng guilty of more than a dozen other criminal charges.
This woman’s murder conviction is rare for a doctor. It shouldn’t be rare – in a saner society, it would be a weekly event. That is, until drug-dealing MDs start getting the hint and knock off the garbage-level street-dealing scat.
Prosecutors told the court the wayward physician prescribed hard-core narcotics to people with no medical need, and that she repeatedly ignored signs they were overdosing, even when warned numerous times, that her patients were showing up at emergency rooms all over town not breathing, from doses of drugs she herself was prescribing.
Tseng’s attorney, Tracy Green, argued to the court that the doctor had been “naive to prescribe so many medications.”
Right. 10 years of advanced education; a dozen years treating thousands of people, and her problem is being gullible? Here’s a news flash for Ms. Tracy Green, attorney at law. Talking like an idiot does nothing to elevate your reputation as a legal eagle. So stop it. Your client’s problem was greed. Look in the mirror and mouth the words. We promise. Honesty helps you sleep better.
Unfortunately this physician – as indeed so many thousands of other physicians – either forget or ignore the most basic tenet of medicine: Primum no nocere. That simple Latin phrase has been around a long, long time. Non-malfeasance, is bedrock bioethics that all healthcare students are taught in school. Ask any nursing student. It’s a fundamental principle. Roughly translated it means this: if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, at least don’t kill your patient, okay? Doesn’t that sound like something that – oh, we don’t know – a CUB SCOUT – might figure out?