The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Tennessee Nurse Convicted of Homicide for Fatal Mistake

Apr 25, 2022

Former nurse RaDonda Vaught was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult on March 25 in Nashville, Tennessee. She faces up to eight years in prison.

On December 26, 2017, Vaught was working her usual 12-hour Neuro Intensive Care Unit (NICU) shift at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She went to get a sedative for patient Charlene Murphrey, who was anxious about entering a brain scan machine.

But the hospital uses an automated drug dispensing cabinet that did not recognize the sedative’s brand name. So, Vaught followed a dangerous procedure that Vanderbilt instructed nurses to do. She overrode the program so the cabinet would dispense a drug for which she inputted the first two letters of the name. In fact, Murphrey’s treatment had required nurses to do 20 overrides in just three days!

Instead of the sedative, the machine gave Vaught a paralyzer starting with the same two letters. It is also used for the death penalty and should not be available from drug cabinets anyway. Vaught administered the drug. By the time she realized her error, Murphrey had suffered severe, permanent brain damage, and soon died. Vaught immediately took responsibility for her fatal mistake.

One consequence was that the hospital changed the automated cabinet procedure to require entering five letters, not just two, which can avoid many similar errors. There are procedures to deal with non-intentional mistakes, like discipline or taking away nurse’s or doctor’s license. State health officials decided not to discipline Vaught or take away her nursing license.

But the city’s district attorney chose to charge Vaught with homicide. This does not heal anyone or prevent horrors like this which ruined two families’ lives. Fatal medication errors kill between 7,000 to 10,000 people each year in this country.

All too often, healthcare workers are forced into a predicament by procedures that lead to mistakes. But this district attorney is treating a mistake as if it were a crime.