Legal and Ethical Issues in Pharmacology

Legal and Ethical Issues in Pharmacology

Medication errors have been reported for several decades and their consequences have been severe with death and disability being the outcomes. The errors take the form of administering the wrong medicine, dosage, and dose. One such case that was highly covered in the media is the Emily Jerry case. Young Emily died after she had been given an overdose of a highly concentrated sodium chloride that had been put in her chemotherapy IV bag. This happened two years after the doctors diagnosed her with a tiny yolk sac tumor. She was just one year and a half old at that time. After several months of being diagnosed, Emily underwent some surgeries, testing and eventually chemotherapy sessions. Unfortunately, during her last chemotherapy session, a pharmacy technician filled her plastic chemotherapy IV bag with 23.4% of concentrated sodium chloride. The technician had compounded the solution by himself (Emily Jerry Foundation, 2013).

After investigations from the pharmacy board, the cause of Emily’s death was established after which the technician was confronted for outrageous error. Although he claimed not to have been aware, he admitted to have had doubts about something not being right but could not tell what it was.  When the investigators sought to know if the technician was aware of the risks such a concentration posed to the patients, he denied being aware of the danger (Emily Jerry Foundation, 2013).

The above medication error may have been caused by slips and lapses which are also referred to as unsafe acts, knowledge-based mistakes, and violations. The lapses in most cases occur due to large workloads, distractions, and poor staffing. On the other hand, it could be as a result of misappropriated labelling during the preparation process and during repackaging into smaller units. It could also be as a result of miscommunication of drugs orders, which can occur as a confusion of dosing and metric units, inappropriate abbreviations, confusion of drugs with similar names and poor handwriting (Keers, Williams, Cooke, & Ashcroft, (2013).

In Emily’s case, there is a legal aspect that is profound; failure to observe the procedures and principles of practice regarding the Intravenous (I.V.) therapy skills. The hospital and the technician should take responsibility for the medical error. The institutions supplying IV fluid therapy are considered as an integral part of many patients’ care. In reference to Emily’s case, it was necessary for the fluids together with the medical treatments to be administered using an efficient and faster method intravenously (Weiss & Kock, 2012). The emergency department at the hospital showed some ethical standards by responding immediately to the patient’s mother call for help. They put her on a life-saving machine and did their best to keep her alive. From a legal and ethical perspective, the decision of the hospital to apologize immediately they established the cause of death is a welcome one.

It is crucial that the factors that contribute to the medical errors of this nature are highlighted (Weiss & Kock, 2012). The medical practitioners, as an ethical consideration, are required to express empathy which is critical in creating an understanding with the family of the patient. The legal implications of such an error could include pressing charges for medical negligence, unintentional homicide or accidental manslaughter. These are serious crimes that can attract millions of dollars to the hospital in addition to the revocation of the practising license (Weiss & Kock, 2012).

Some of the most appropriate ways of decreasing this medication error is the provision of a drug guide available to the technician at all times, increase supervision of the junior employees and having proper adequate staffing to avoid overworking the employees. Besides, such small aspects like always adding a zero in front of a decimal point, considering the use of a name alert, and double checking when carrying out a procedure are critical in ensuring compliance with the regulations. Finally, adherence to the institutional regulations and not overlooking anything will curb similar errors from occurring (Weiss & Kock, 2012).

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