Blood therapy

Blood therapy doctors could face manslaughter charges

Death of one of four women who fell seriously ill after beauty chain's transfusion treatment may lead to manslaughter case, barrister says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 10:02am

Doctors working for a chain of beauty therapy centres may face manslaughter charges after the death of a woman who had a high-risk blood transfusion, a barrister said.

Restaurant boss Chan Yuen-lam, 46, died at Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai at 9.15am yesterday due to multiple organ failure. She was one of four women who recently fell ill after paying HK$50,000 for the "anti-cancer" procedure offered by the DR chain of beauty centres.

The other three were still in hospital yesterday.

A 60-year-old woman was in a critical condition in United Christian Hospital and a 56-year-old woman was in a serious condition in Ruttonjee Hospital.

The third woman, the 59-year-old sister of DR founder Dr Stephen Chow Heung-wing, was in stable condition in Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Chan contracted a rare superbug, Mycobacterium abscessus, after having the treatment at the DR centre in Causeway Bay. The DR chain issued a statement expressing its regret and promised to co-operate with a Health Authority inquiry.

A police spokeswoman said an autopsy would be carried out to determine the precise cause of Chan's death.

Chow had earlier explained at a news conference that his centre referred the women to a doctor for the treatment, in which blood was extracted. It is understood the blood was then transferred to a laboratory to be processed and later reinfused into the women by a doctor at the DR centre.

HKU microbiologist Dr Ho Pak-leung said the drug-resistant superbug may have contaminated the equipment or the blood at any point during one of these procedures.

According to a barrister, any doctor who performed a questionable therapy that led to a death was likely to face disciplinary action from the Medical Council and criminal charges.

But under existing law, it may difficult to prove that the beauty centre which referred a client to a doctor was also liable. "One crucial piece of evidence to determine accountability would be to determine whether the source of contamination took place during the therapy," the barrister said.

Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who is also a barrister, said he believed the most serious criminal charge that any doctor involved in the risky therapy could face was manslaughter.

"If there is evidence to prove that doctors may have known of, or did not do enough to prevent, a possible contamination while they performed the therapy, and that they may have been negligent, they could be charged with manslaughter," Tong said.

"But as we do not know what is the share of duty between the beauty centre and the doctor, it is possible that the beauty centre may be able to [avoid a] manslaughter [charge]," he said.

The Civic Party, the Medical Association, the Consumer Council and medical sector legislator Dr Leung Ka-lau have all urged the government to tighten laws and close loopholes that may allow a beauty centre to escape liability when a risky procedure goes wrong.

The city's only case of manslaughter involving a doctor occurred in 2003, when Harry Sudirman was jailed for two years for killing a woman while performing an illegal abortion.