Unlawful killing verdict sought in overdose death of widow

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 November, 2010, 12:00am

The family of a woman who died from an overdose of a powerful painkiller prescribed by her goddaughter doctor invited an inquest jury yesterday to return a verdict of unlawful killing.

Alexander King SC, for the family of Anita Chan Lai-ling, said radiologist Dr Yau Yat-yin - who prescribed fentanyl to Chan for her back pain - had been 'grossly negligent' and had tried to cover it up.

King was speaking at the restart of an inquest on Chan who died on October 17, 2007, with two pain-killing patches on her neck. Chan was the widow of philanthropic educator Chan Shu-kui.

The inquest has been suspended for a year.

King said Yau had admitted in court that she had prescribed to herself more than 6,000 tablets which she then gave to Chan between 2004 and her death.

'If a patient starts asking you for drugs, a doctor's professional duty is to say 'no',' King said.

Yau prescribed six fentanyl patches for Chan's back pain when the widow was discharged from Adventist Hospital after being treated for an overdose of sleeping pills. She died a week later.

King said fentanyl was a potent opiate, 80 times more potent than morphine, adding that the patches were inadequately packed and labelled 'use as directed'.

The lawyer said that soon after Chan's death, Yau persuaded her family that she had died of natural causes and an autopsy was not needed, referring to a preliminary clinical laboratory report.

An autopsy later found that Chan died of an overdose of fentanyl.

King said: 'She knew clearly what happened. She did not want people to know about it. She wanted to cover it up. She wanted to get away.'

He noted that experts had testified in court that they would not prescribe fentanyl patches, usually given to cancer patients, for Chan's level of pain.

King also suggested that Yau was lying when she testified she had given Chan and her domestic helper instructions on using the patches.

The court earlier heard Yau had told Chan that fentanyl was a potent drug and could have severe side effects; that no more than one may be used at one time and would last three days. It must also not come into contact with heat.

The inquest continues today.