Doctors acquitted of causing migrant’s death

Two doctors cleared of causing migrant’s death after court rules that there was “no doubt” that victim had died of natural causes, and not as a result of tranquilliser administered.

Two female doctors who administered a tranquilliser to a migrant a few hours before he died almost 10 years ago were this morning cleared of causing involuntary homicide after a magistrate ruled that the man died of natural causes, and not a result of the medicine.

Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera heard that on the night of February 6, 2005, doctors Elaine Desira, 33, and Ritienne Debono, 36, were working at St Luke’s Hospital when the victim, Eritrean national Sagid Iisraquay Tegulade, was admitted to hospital complaining of an asthma attack.

The court heard that while in hospital, the Eritrean was acting violently, agitated and even tried to rip the door of its hinges. After witnessing this, Dr Desira consulted with her superior, Dr Debono, and a decision was taken to administer five milligrams of Valium in an attempt to calm him down and treat him.

However, two hours later, the migrant died, and in 2009, the doctors were charged with involuntarily causing the Eritrean’s murder. The publication of the doctors’ names was initially banned, but a court this morning lifted the ban.

The Eritrean had arrived in Malta on September 17, 2004. He had already been deported after entering illegally but returned.

During the compilation of evidence, the court heard that prior to his death, the migrant suffered from several health complication and had a history of asthma and suffered from Tuberculosis. 

Court experts argued that asthma patients should never be given by Valium, while other experts said that notwithstanding this, there was no causal link between the victim’s death and the medicine administered.

Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera also heard that an autopsy had revealed that the Eritrean died as a result of a collapsed lung and intra-pulmonary hemorrhage due to bronchial asthma, and that these were tantamount to a “natural death.”

In her decision, Magistrate Scerri Herrera underlined that the tranquiliser had a short lasting effect that lasts an average of just 15 minutes, and that as a result, it did not add up that the migrant died two hours later as a consequence of the medicine.

Taking the autopsy report into account, Magistrate Scerri Herrera said “no link could ever be established” between the medicine administered and the cause of death.

Moreover, she said that in light of the difficulties the doctors encountered, namely the language barrier and the victim’s aggressive behaviour, the decision to prescribe the medicine was a good one and in addition, the doctors had “done their best in such unfortunate circumstances.”

In her judgement, the court ruled that there was no doubt that the patient died due to natural clauses and not as a result of the doctor’s actions or failure to act.

Consequently, the doctors were cleared of the charges brought against them.

Police Inspector Joseph Agius prosecuted. Lawyers Michael and Lucio Sciriha appeared for Dr Debono while lawyer Anna Mallia represented for Dr Desira. 


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