Paolo Macchiarini found guilty of gross assault against three patients on whom he tested synthetic tracheae
Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who was once hailed as a pioneer of stem cell medicine, was found guilty of gross assault against three of his patients today and sentenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison by an appeals court in Stockholm. The ruling comes a year after a Swedish district court found Macchiarini guilty of bodily harm in two of the cases and gave him a suspended sentence. After both the prosecution and Macchiarini appealed that ruling, the Svea Court of Appeal heard the case in April and May. Today’s ruling from the five-judge panel is largely a win for the prosecution—it had asked for a 5-year sentence whereas Macchiarini’s lawyer urged the appeals court to acquit him of all charges.
For anyone who does not know the Macchiarini case, it is a ghastly breach of ethics, a horrific travesty betrayal of trust and consent, which left a trail of dead patients and shattered families. Some may feel that two years is insufficient for the harm, death and treachery he was responsible for. We have included links to 13 related items. We don’t necessarily recommend referring to this case in professional development. In our experience, cases like this can be titillating but they are unlikely to change the attitudes or behaviour of most researchers.
In the ruling released today, the appeals judges disagreed with the district court’s decision that the first two patients were treated under “emergency” conditions. Both patients could have survived for a significant length of time without the surgeries, they said. The third case was an “emergency,” the court ruled, but the treatment was still indefensible because by then Macchiarini was well aware of the problems with the technique. (One patient had already died and the other had suffered severe complications.)
The judges ruled that Macchiarini “acted with criminal intent,” even though he hoped the technique would work. They were persuaded by the evidence that he was fully aware “of the risk that the procedures would cause the patients physical injuries and suffering and that he was indifferent to the realization of these risks.” Viveka Lång, one of the appeals judges who heard the case, says Swedish law recognizes three levels of intent, and the court found Macchiarini guilty of the lowest level. Even if it was not his purpose to harm the patients, she says, “was he aware of the potential risk, and did he do [the surgeries] anyway?”