I'd be astonished if you didn't get an enormous response to your editorial, "Should Human Error Be a Crime?" (February 2007).* You said that it was wrong to press criminal charges (a felony charge of criminal neglect) against the Wisconsin nurse who mistakenly gave a patient the wrong drug, resulting in the patient's death. I disagree.
No one denies that imperfect systems make for errors, and I'd never argue that a nurse who gives a mislabeled drug should be prosecuted. But I'll tell you what's a crime: A nurse intends to give I.V. penicillin and picks up a bag of bupivacaine instead. She hangs it and runs it, and the patient dies. There's no "systems error" here. The bag wasn't mislabeled. So what if she'd been working extra hours? She alone decided to ignore the "five rights" of medication administration, the most basic of principles that every freshman nursing student knows by heart.
Let's not let our zeal to protect our colleagues blind us to the fact this is not a systems error. This action is a crime because it showed wanton disregard for life that led to a death, which is manslaughter.
At the very least, a conviction would serve as a cautionary tale to nurses and students. In this day of always looking for a way to avoid responsibility for one's actions, that would be a very good thing indeed.
-WENDIE A. HOWLAND, RN, CCM, CRRN, MN
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