In interviews, several experts said that although they did not know the details of the case, they suspected that it had to be more complicated than the “plain and simple homicide” asserted by the attorney general, Charles C. Foti.
One possibility is that the patients were suffering and the only way to keep them comfortable was with high drug doses that may, incidentally, have hastened their deaths. It is not known, though, how much the patients were suffering.
Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, said: “The real dilemma here is in getting at the very precise facts of the case. I can say that, as a general matter, if you have a patient who is in distress and who needs pain relief and if the only level of painkillers that will relieve the pain also poses a high risk of death then it is permissible to give the pain relievers, provided the patient has consented to the risk of death.”
Even if the patient can no longer give consent, Professor Charo said, it is still ethical for doctors to treat the pain if they believe it is what the patient would want.
“If that was the case, then this is not simple homicide, and I can only hope the investigators were attentive to this,” she said.