Surgeon says doctors acted too late for girl

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The Independent Online
A leading liver transplant surgeon yesterday accused colleagues who refused to operate on a dying 15-year-old girl of making their decision on moral rather than medical grounds.

Professor Roger Williams, head of the liver unit at King's College Hospital, London, told a fatal accident inquiry into the death of Michelle Paul, 15, who suffered liver failure after taking half an ecstasy tablet, that worries about her family background should have played no part in the decision as to whether to give her a transplant.

Contradicting an earlier claim by the transplant surgeon Dr Hilary Sanfey, who headed the team at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Professor Williams said Michelle showed no clear sign of irreversible brain damage and she should have been put on the list for the operation. Her family claim that she was denied a transplant on moral grounds because of her mother's and sister's histories of drug taking.

Professor Williams said there were indications for many days that Michelle needed a transplant and accused doctors of not reacting fast enough to her condition. If a transplant had been done promptly she would have had a 75-85 per cent chance of survival. It would still have been possible on the day before she died - 27 November 1995 - but the chances of success would have been less than 50 per cent.

Giving evidence on the sixth day of the inquiry at Aberdeen Sherrif Court, Professor Williams said the pupils of Michelle's eyes were still reacting on the 26 November, the day before she died. "There were no clear signs that this patient had suffered irreversible brain damage."

He added that his views would be supported by the vast majority of hepatologists around the world and that the General Medical Council made it clear that patients should be given the benefit of the doubt in times of medical need.

Regarding the notes Dr Sanfey had made about the case, he said: "It could not have been a clearer statement of a personal opinion ... To me it is very clear that a transplant was being looked at and was excluded on the basis of the family background."

The inquiry continues.