Five elderly deaths not accidental, says coroner

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2007, 12:00am

None of the deaths of five elderly patients who were wrongly given diabetes medicine at a Wong Tai Sin clinic in 2005 could be ruled accidental, the coroner told an inquest yesterday.

Summarising the case in the Coroner's Court, Coroner William Lam Kui-po ruled out the possibility of an accident and left three options for the jury - natural causes, misadventure and an open verdict.

Mr Lam defined an accident as an act which was unexpected, but he said the act of a doctor prescribing a drug or of a patient taking a drug as directed by the doctor was not an accidental act.

The five patients, who died in 2005, had consulted medical practitioner Ronald Li Sai-lai, whose clinic was investigated by the health department in May that year after two of his patients were admitted to hospital with low blood glucose.

However, the coroner said no evidence showed their deaths were linked to hypoglycaemia - an abnormal drop in blood sugar.

He gave instructions on the deaths of Zee Kuo-foong, 83; Yeung Kim-ching, 86; Wan Yau-kiu, 69; and Cho Yim-fong, 72. Instructions on the death of Fan Chu, 80, are expected today.

Mr Lam specifically directed the five jurors to choose between natural causes and an open verdict in the deaths of Yeung and Cho.

Earlier in medical reports prepared by Chinese University specialist Cliff Cockram, Yeung was said to have died of a subarachnoid haemorrhage - bleeding between the brain and the skull. Cho died of stomach cancer. As for Zee, Mr Lam tended towards a verdict of misadventure.

If the jurors agreed, Zee's death would be linked to low blood glucose related to taking the diabetes drug, the coroner said.

Dr Cockram's report indicated a link to hypoglycaemia, although Zee had no history of diabetes.

But the jury may also attribute natural causes to Zee's death or deliver an open verdict.

Mr Lam asked the jury to rule misadventure in Wan's death.

He said her low blood glucose level could be related to taking the diabetes drug, but evidence from two professors - Dr Cockram and Cyrus Kumana of the University of Hong Kong - agreed there could be other explanations.

Or she might have died of pancreatic cancer, medical experts testified.

The five-person jury is expected to retire today after being given further directions this morning.