The Edmonton enquiry into the morphine death of Baby Candice Taschuk died last fall, 16 hours after birth. She had suffered oxygen deprivation due to a blockage in the umbilical cord during the caesarian delivery and was immediately put on life support systems. Aware of the possibility of severe brain damage, her parents gave permission to have the support systems removed to see how well the baby could function independently.
The fact that a lethal 15 milligram dose of morphine administered to the child was the most likely cause of death, was not revealed until a routine audit of hospital deaths several months later.
Dr. Nathum Gal, who ordered the injection was subsequently suspended form practice in Alberta and now practices as a pediatrician in Israel. He has not given evidence at the enquiry, nor have criminal charges been laid against him. He has, however, been represented by a lawyer throughout the proceedings.
Nurse Barbara Howell, who administered the injection, told the hearing that she was aware that it was an overdose amount and had checked with her superior before going ahead. She said that the dose was so large that it had to be divided into two parts and injected into both legs.
While several doctors testified that Candace’s death was due to birth asphyxia, there was one dissenting opinion. Dr. Jennifer Rice, forensic pathologist and Alberta’s deputy chief medical examiner, stated that it was the morphine which was the cause of death.
“As long as there was some circulation, some of the morphine would have been absorbed,” she said. “It is my opinion the overdose was in sufficient quantity to produce death. I’m sorry but in this case I don’t believe it was very difficult to determine the cause of death.”
While an autopsy was performed on the baby, there was no examination of body fluid, which would have indicated the presence of morphine. As the baby was cremated, there is no possibility of a further examination.
The testimony still to come from the attending obstetrician will at least shed some light as to how Candace Taschuk received such severe birth injuries.