medical examiner

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‘Anatomy Of A Bad Confession’: The Medical Evidence

2008 photo of Nga Truong and Khyle


It’s all over the WBUR homepage today, but just in case that’s not on your usual online route, here’s an added signpost: Check out uber-reporter David Boeri’s frightening investigation into a young Worcester girl’s coerced confession that she had killed her baby, “Anatomy of a Bad Confession.”

My reaction: The only nightmare worse than losing a child is being accused of the child’s murder — and somehow confessing to an unthinkable crime you never committed. There’s a medical element as well — strong evidence that the baby could have died of natural causes. David writes:

That videotape was of crucial significance to the case. The police had no other evidence other than the confession. There were no witnesses, the autopsy report was inconclusive, and the 13-month-old boy, Khyle, had strep throat, tracheobronchitis, indications of a fever and a history of respiratory problems, including asthma, at the time of his death. When the judge, Janet Kenton-Walker, threw out Truong’s statements to police, she wrote that Truong “was a frightened, meek, emotionally compromised teenager who never understood the implications of her statements [to police].”

and:

Pageau knows, as he will later testify, that at the time of this interrogation the manner of Khyle’s death is “undetermined.” The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy just a few hours earlier has stated no cause of death. The child has shown no sign of injuries and his elevated body temperature after death (101 degrees Fahrenheit one hour after being declared dead) indicates, as Truong said, that her baby had a fever. And Khyle had a history of asthma. But in the box, the detectives betray no doubt.

Investigation Of Medical Examiners Finds Buried Mistakes Abound

An expose reveals trouble at the morgue

An expose of the nation’s coroners and medical examiners finds startling evidence that those “detectives of death” are presiding over a “deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes.”

The joint investigation, by NPR, ProPublica and PBS Frontline, reports that: “Blunders by doctors in America’s morgues have put innocent people in prison cells, allowed the guilty to go free, and left some cases so muddled that prosecutors could do nothing.”

And squeaky clean Massachusetts is not immune.

The Massachusetts medical examiner’s office has cremated a corpse before police could determine if the person had been murdered; misplaced bones; and lost track of at least five bodies.

Indeed, a separate dispatch is devoted to the troubles of the Bay State Office of the Chief Medical Examiner:

At times, Massachusetts’ forensic pathologists have toiled in disturbingly decrepit conditions. The National Association of Medical Examiners, a nonprofit body that inspects and accredits morgues, issued a blistering inspection report in 2000 identifying more than 50 significant problems at the agency’s facilities. At one morgue, since shuttered, doctors were collecting blood, bile and other bodily fluids in 5-gallon buckets and pumping them back into corpses because a septic system had collapsed, making it impossible to wash the fluids down the drain…

The office has struggled with the most basic of tasks. In 2003, it mixed up the bodies of two women severely burned in a Gloucester house fire. The blaze killed Ann Goyette and injured her friend, Susan Anderson. But when Goyette’s body was delivered to the morgue, a doctor mistakenly wrote the name Susan Anderson on the death certificate. In fact, Anderson, comatose, swathed in bandages and surrounded by an oxygen tent, was lying in a bed in Massachusetts General Hospital.

By the time the mistake was uncovered, the agency had cremated Goyette’s body, further upsetting her already distraught family. “How could the ball be dropped so many times?” asked Goyette’s brother, Scott Arnold, who unsuccessfully sued the state over the snafu.

Daily Rounds: Hands-Only CPR; Health Care Lawsuits; Nurses’ Vs. Doctors’ Jobs; Mass. Medical Examiner Challenged; How Not To Fight Colds

The Associated Press: Hands-only CPR saves more lives in cardiac arrests “It’s the first large American study to show more adults survived cardiac arrest when a bystander gave them continuous chest presses to simulate a heartbeat, compared to traditional CPR with mouth-to-mouth breathing.” (google.com)

Lawsuits over health care law heat up – USATODAY.com “The burst of litigation has the framers of the law and the Obama administration playing defense. Many scholars, such as Charles Fried of Harvard Law School, argue that the law is on firm legal footing. But there is no quick resolution in sight, and it may take a year or two, and a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, for all the lawsuits to get sorted out.” (USA Today)

Report Says Nurses Have Bigger Jobs To Do, But Doctors Say Not So Fast : Shots – Health News Blog : NPR “Nurses will need to be better educated, says a report just issued by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. In 10 years, 80 percent of nurses should have bachelor’s degrees. Twice as many nurses should get PhDs and all nurses should do residencies, the sort of practical training that new doctors do.”(npr.org)

Medical examiner’s credentials are challenged by predecessor – The Boston Globe “The state medical examiner’s office, which has been rocked by repeated controversies, now faces another embarrassing mess: One of the agency’s former top officials is accusing the current chief medical examiner of having falsified credentials.” (Boston Globe)

And last but not least: This came out yesterday and is making the rounds like, well, a cold — a nice debunking of supposed immune-boosters:
Op-Ed Contributor – How Not to Fight Colds – NYTimes.com (The New York Times)