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Professional Misconduct

James Latham Peters


Address: Croydon, Victoria, Australia
Age: 63
Sex: Male
Occupation: Doctor
Date: 7 March 2013


Details




James Latham Peters, a drug-addicted doctor, was sentenced to 14 years jail on 7 March  2013 for  negligently infecting 55 women patients with hepatitis C while administering anaesthetics to them during abortion procedures.



Sentencing Peters, Victorian Supreme Court judge Justice Terry Forrest said the disgraced doctor was now a totally isolated man whose addiction to the medical drug fentanyl had compromised every aspect of his life and led to the infection of the women who had placed their trust in him at a most vulnerable time.


Sentencing Peters to a minimum 10 years' jail, Justice Forrest said his addiction had not reduced his moral culpability.


Peters had pleaded guilty to negligently infecting the 55 women, although Chief Crown prosecutor Gavin Silbert, SC, told the February 2013 plea hearing there were more victims who never made a complaint.


“Besides the 55 victims the subject of these charges, there are approximately ten more who refused to speak to police for fear that their partners would learn that they had undergone terminations and were suffering from hepatitis C,” Mr Silbert told Peters’ plea hearing.


Peters infected the women while administering anaesthetics with soiled syringes during procedures at the Croydon Day Surgery between June 2008 and November 2009.


He had previously used the syringes to inject himself with the medical drug fentanyl, before using those same syringes to inject drugs into the women’s cannulars during surgical procedures.


The court had heard that Peters was “hopelessly addicted” to fentanyl, and had declared his intravenous drug problem to the former Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria back in 1995.


In sentencing, Justice Forrest described Peters' criminality as "truly reprehensible".


“You knew you were suffering from hepatitis C. Any measure of your subsequent conduct must take into account both that you knew you carried the virus and, as an anaesthetist, you must have known that the pernicious illness could be transmitted by the mixing of your blood into the bloodstream of another.


“Your conduct fell so greatly short of the standard of care expected of the reasonable anaesthetist and involved such a high risk of serious injury that punishment under the criminal law is merited. Put simply, the reasonable anaesthetist does not inject himself with a powerful narcotic substance just prior to surgery and he does not, whilst in a narcotically altered mental state, use the same syringe to anaesthetise his patients.


“This was not a single transitory madness with 55 dreadful consequences. You had been addicted to (fentanyl) for many years, you knew you had hepatitis C and you knew how it could be transmitted to others.


“You breached the great trust that every patient places in his or her treating doctor.”


Justice Forrest said that while the Medical Board of Victoria suspended Peters’ medical registration for 12 months from May 1996 after he informed them of his drug addiction, Peters remained under the supervision of the board until February 2010.


"It was you who infected your patients, not the (medical) board," Justice Forrest said.


The women were infected during procedures at the Croydon Day Surgery between June 2008 and November 2009.


Lawyer Julie Clayton from Slater & Gordon said the victims had mixed feelings about the length of the sentence.


“The prosecution and defence were united on one point and that is that the medical board dismally failed to protect these women,” Ms Clayton said.


Most of the victims have launched a civil class action against Peters, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and the former director of the Croydon Day Surgery where the infections occurred.