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Deadly Dentistry – Part 6 – Could Dental Malpractice be Considered Murder?

Deadly Dentistry - Part 6 - Could Dental Malpractice be Considered Murder?

A California dentist, Dr. Claire, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of his son, after performing a routine dental procedure. Patrick Claire, a developmentally disabled 36-year-old whose condition resembled autism, died shortly after having a painful wisdom tooth extracted by his father. Patrick died from respiratory failure and cardiac arrest as a result of an overdose of the sedatives morphine and valium. The dentist had been practicing for forty years and had a history of complaints filed against him for sedation-related issues. Morphine is not an approved sedative and Dr. Claire did not have a license to practice aesthetics.

What elevated the incident of death from dental malpractice to suspicion of murder was the testimony of an eyewitness to the entire procedure. Sandra Montoya was the dental assistant at the time and claimed that Dr. Claire did nothing when she tried to alert him that his son was struggling to breathe. She said that the doctor claimed that such was common and his son was prone to having seizures. After Ms. Montoya left work at 5:00 pm the doctor waited an hour and called 911. When police and rescue workers arrived around 6:00 pm they found Dr. Claire half-heartedly administering CPR to his son with a force the equivalent of “honking a car horn with one hand”. Patrick was taken to a local hospital where he was declared dead. Montoya told police that she did not see the doctor administer the required blood pressure tests to Patrick prior to giving him the sedatives and that there were no vital signs monitored during the procedure as required by law.

Although Dr. Claire claimed that he had given Patrick a standard intravenous dosage of valium and morphine, lethal amounts nearly three times the required level to sedate a patient of his height and weight were found in his system including some in his stomach. It was discovered that Patrick had sought medical attention at the local emergency room and was given pain prescription painkillers including novocaine. It is suspected that Patrick, a known local drug user, could have secured the morphine illegally and used it to relieve his pain without telling his father.

Because of the uncertainties of Patrick’s prior drug use the DA was unable to proceed with murder charges. Dr. Claire cut a deal with the DA’s office and plead no-contest to the charge of “unlicensed sedation under circumstances or conditions that caused death” and agreed to three years probation and surrendered his California dental license. No arrests were ever made.

Article and Image Credit: Original Dallas Morning News Deadly Denistry Series

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