Nurses Charged with Criminally Negligent Homicide


When human fallibility leads a nurse to perform a medication error that results in a patient death some states are eager to take the nurse to criminal court with a charge of criminally negligent homicide. The argument is made that licensing boards made up of nurse peers allows a fair review by people who know standards of practice for nurses. The argument is further leveraged by advocates that say boards are in a better position to trend like mistakes and promote methods to decrease the mistakes in the future protecting the public.

The American Nurse Credentialing (ANA) follow this thought process by indicating they have a sharp focus to help protect the public. Another argument I feel is the strongest for not taking these cases to criminal court is the lack of “intent”. I firmly believe the nurse will feel extremely guilty and depressed over a med error she committed that resulted in patient injury or death. The majority of cases would not be able to find intent by nurse. The court systems are very slow to bring cases to court where the board of nursing moves more swiftly toward resolution. So it does seem reasonable that nurses be reviewed by a board of their peers in my opinion.

A second argument for have the nursing board review cases is their knowledge of the Nurse Practice Act which clarifies the scope of nursing practice for specific states. This document is not entirely consistent in content or interpretation through out the United States. A board of nursing that is familiar with the document would allow more efficient and consistent application of the nurse practice act. If a board of nursing found the nurse has over stepped the scope of practice it would be their duty to have the case reviewed by the state Attorney General’s office. The review by the nursing board would help clarify the nurse actions in relation to nursing standards and decrease the burden on the court system.


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