GP sentenced for morphine death

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Gary Gow, 53, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of a patient Wayne Ritchie after prescribing him an incorrect type of morphine with inadequate administration instructions, for his chronic back pain.

Mr Ritchie died after injecting himself with 120 milligrams of morphine tartrate on October 3, 2004, at his home in Figtree, near Wollongong.

Dr Gow had accidentally prescribed the morphine tartrate instead of morphine sulphate, the former designed to be administered in extremely small doses over a prolonged period to cancer patients with intractable pain.

He failed to give Mr Ritchie any instructions on how to take the drug.

District Court judge Peter Berman today handed Dr Gow an 18-month suspended jail sentence finding he had made "a series of serious mistakes with terrible consequences''.

However, Judge Berman said the south coast doctor was a professional of impeccable reputation and character who is deeply remorseful for what he had done.

In suspending Dr Gow's sentence the judge also pointed to a failure of systems designed to stop such "catastrophic'' medical errors from taking place.

"That is, of course, not to excuse Dr Gow's errors,'' Judge Berman told the court.

"But that's to recognise that people even professional people make mistakes.''

He ordered Dr Gow be released from custody immediately on condition he be of good behaviour for the period of his sentence.

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