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Death by negligence
  1. John Launer
  1. Dr John Launer, London Deanery, Stewart House, London WC1B 5DN, UK; jlauner{at}

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My mother died just over 25 years ago, in a hospital bed, from a pulmonary embolus. It was, like most such deaths, entirely unnecessary and preventable. She had a history of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), for which she had previously been admitted to the same hospital. For several days before her death, she had barely left her hospital bed, and had eaten and drunk very little. In spite of all of this, she was not on an intravenous drip, nor wearing anti-embolism stockings. She was also not receiving low molecular weight heparin. On the day of her death, she was complaining of mild diarrhoea, which was almost certainly due to her poor nutritional state. A junior doctor examined her, including a rectal examination, and he almost certainly dislodged a large pelvic thrombus which killed her.

I had qualified as a doctor myself not long previously. Although I believed her care had been negligent, I made no complaint to the hospital. The reasons were complex. These included my own bereaved state, and a wish to avoid an unpleasant and long drawn out fight against a hospital team that showed every sign of being defensive and incapable of admitting fault. Perhaps the most important factor was that I believed that my mother wanted to die. She was not coping well with her widowhood (my father had died the previous year) and she felt overwhelmed by her own …

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  • Competing interests: None.

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