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Swedish surgeon sentenced to prison for causing harm to patients

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An Italian surgeon once celebrated for his groundbreaking work in windpipe surgery has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison by a Swedish appeals court.

Paolo Macchiarini, who gained recognition in 2011 for claiming to have conducted the world’s first synthetic trachea transplants using stem cells while working at Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital, was found guilty of aggravated assault on patients.

Initially hailed as a significant advancement in regenerative medicine, doubts soon arose regarding the procedure. It was revealed that the surgeries had been performed on patients who were not critically ill at the time, leading to concerns about the ethics and legitimacy of the operations. Although three patients in Sweden passed away, their deaths were not directly linked to the surgeries.

A report unveiled that in May, a district court convicted Macchiarini of causing bodily harm to one patient, determining that the procedures were not aligned with established scientific practices. However, he was cleared of assault charges in relation to two other patients on the grounds that their health conditions were so dire that the surgeries were deemed justifiable.

“Both the prosecution and the defense appealed the initial ruling, and the Svea court of appeal ultimately found Macchiarini guilty of three counts of aggravated assault,” the report unveiled.

The court concluded that two patients underwent the procedure despite not being in emergency situations and having the potential to live for a considerable amount of time without the interventions.

The third patient, even though in an emergency situation, received a procedure that the court deemed unjustifiable. Additionally, the court determined that Macchiarini acted with intent, stating that his actions were premeditated rather than impulsive.

Following the verdict, Macchiarini expressed surprise at the court’s decision to accuse him of intending to harm his patients, describing it as the worst allegation one can make against a doctor.

His lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, confirmed that they would appeal the judgment, emphasizing his client’s distress over the outcome.

Macchiarini and his colleagues conducted a total of eight synthetic trachea transplants between 2011 and 2014—three in Sweden and five in Russia. Swedish media reports indicate that four out of the five Russian patients also died. Macchiarini argued in court that the transplants were pursued as a last resort when all other options had been exhausted.

In addition to his work at the Karolinska University Hospital, Macchiarini was affiliated with the Karolinska Institute research facility, which awards the Nobel Medicine Prize. However, in 2016, the institute terminated his employment due to research misconduct, and an external review in 2015 had already found him guilty of such misconduct. The Lancet, a respected medical journal, retracted two papers authored by Macchiarini in 2018.

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