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Medical School head condemns colleagues for jailed nurses' character references

The Vice-Chancellor for the Samoa Oceania University of Medicine, Toleafoa Dr. Viali Lameko, has condemned members of the medical fraternity who wrote character references for nurses found to have negligently caused the death of two toddlers.

He said it was wrong for his colleagues in the medical profession to provide character references when the medical profession's conduct was under scrutiny. 

“The medical [fraternity] should not show any support for negligence and wrongful acts,” said Toleafoa in response to questions from the Samoa Observer. 

The senior doctor was speaking in response to the concerns raised by Acting Chief Justice Vui Clarence Nelson during the sentencing of nurses Luse Emo Tauvale and Leutogi Te’o last week.

Justice Vui, in sentencing remarks said: “I do express surprise that some of your colleagues, senior in the medical profession would chose to provide character reference for someone who has seriously breached the standard and ethics of the medical profession."

The nurses were sentenced to five years jail for their roles in negligently preparing and administering a “deadly mixture” of a Measles, Mumps and Rubella (M.M.R.) vaccine and expired anaesthetic that caused the death of two infants in Savai’i last July: a girl, Lannah Samuelu, of Sasina and a boy, Lameko Siu.

Justice Vui said the references signalled to the court there is some tolerance by the medical profession of Luse and Leutogi’s breach of the protocols and standards.

“I hope I am misreading that signal but people should think long and careful before they elect to file character references in these sorts of cases concerning a member of their own fraternity".

Toleafoa said senior nurses and senior doctors should have considered their oath prior to writing the character references which got tendered in court. 

“For me and our fraternity and also our oath; we don’t side with any church, religion and organisation," he said. 

"Our oath is that we are independent when it comes to giving our honest opinion based on the evidence.

“And in this case it was clear from the evidence of the police, the nurses were negligent. 

“And we shouldn’t even comment on something that is wrong. This is the same principle that is applied here with the Medical students.” 

He said the move to “support the nurses” by providing character references is unethical. 

“One must follow ethics, when considering in such matters.” 

He also noted that doctors and nurses should own up to their mistakes. 

“That is very important in the medical field. No one is perfect and we make mistakes and but we must own up to it.

“That is why the senior doctors are around to advise the new doctor, if they make a mistake, they must own up to it. 

“That is the duty of the senior doctors. If we make a mistake, we take the lead of admitting to the mistake and own up to it to avoid cross negligence.”

He said their fraternity should have never supported any negligence and wrongful acts. 

“It comes back to ethics and they should not use their friendship and personal relationship to support what is wrong," said Toleafoa. 

“It is wrong on all levels."

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