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Fatal Medication Error Ends In Felonies

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RaDonda Vaught is a former Tennessee nurse who has been convicted of two felonies for a fatal medication error. Her child became a rallying cry for nurses fearful of the criminalization of medical mistakes. She was sentenced by Davidson County Criminal Court judge Jennifer Smith on Friday and granted a judicial diversion. This means that her conviction can be expunged if she completes a three-year probationary period. She is not required to spend any time in prison.

Vaught admitted her error after her medication mix up had been discovered, and the defense largely focused on arguments that this was an honest mistake which shouldn’t constitute a crime. Nurses around the country were protesting that this shouldn’t have been prosecuted. Smith said the family of the patient who died as a result of Vaught’s mistakes suffered a terrible loss and that nothing can ease that loss, including prosecuting miss Vaught. “Miss Vaught is well aware of the seriousness of the offense,” Smith said. “She credibly expressed remorse in this courtroom.”

The judge noted that the defendant had no criminal record, had been removed from the health care setting, and would never practice nursing again. The judge went on to state that she made a terrible mistake and that there had been consequences already for the defendant. As the sentence was read, cheers erupted from the crowd as hundreds of purple clad protesters who had gathered outside the courthouse in opposition of the prosecution were elated. Vaught, age 38, was a former nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville TN and faced up to eight years in prison. She had been convicted of criminally negligent homicide and gross and neglect of an impaired adult for the 2017 death of 75-year-old patient Charlene Murphy. Murphy had been prescribed a sedative called Versed, but Vaught had inadvertently given her a fatal dose of Vecuronium, a powerful paralyzer.

Michael Murphy, Charlene Murphy’s son, testified that his mother was a very forgiving woman and that she would not want Vaught to serve any prison time. He went on to state that his widow or father wanted Murphy to receive the maximum sentence possible. He stated that the family was devastated by the sudden loss of their matriarch. “My dad suffers every day from this,” Michael Murphey said. “He goes out to the graveyard three to four times a week and just sits out there and cries.”

This case is unusual because even deadly medical errors typically go before state medical boards, and lawsuits are almost never prosecuted in Criminal Court. The Davidson County district attorney’s office has described the case as an indictment of 1 carelessness not in nursing entirely. Prosecutors argued that Vaught overlooked multiple warning signs when she grabbed the wrong drug, including failing to notice that Versed is a liquid and Vecuronium is a powder.

“I have lost far more than just my nursing license and my career. I will never be the same person,” Vaught said, her voice quivering as she began to cry. “When Ms. Murphey died, a part of me died with her.”

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