A 51-year-old Belgian anesthetist prosecuted for a fatal childbirth she had performed while drunk, in 2014 in Orthez (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), was sentenced Thursday in Pau to three years in prison, and a definitive ban on practicing medicine, a sentence deemed “exceptional” by the lawyer of relatives of the British Xynthia Hawke.

The Pau correctional court retained the maximum penalty of three years for this offense of manslaughter and also condemned the anesthesiologist, Helga Wauters, to pay heavy damages. Or 1.4 million euros to relatives of Xynthia Hawke: her surviving son, her companion, her sister and her parents Helen and Fraser Hawke, who remained in Great Britain because of the health crisis.

“This is the first time that justice, for a doctor responsible for manslaughter, goes up to the maximum penalty, three years in prison, and also until the ban on practice”, their lawyer Philippe Courtois told the press, welcoming an “exceptional decision”.

The judgment, in accordance with the prosecution’s requisitions during the trial in early October, was pronounced in the absence of the defendant, who then appeared free under judicial supervision, refusing to answer the president’s questions.

A warrant of committal was not issued against the anesthesiologist who had carried out two months of pre-trial detention at the time.

As her sentence cannot be changed, she will have to return to prison, in France or in Belgium, unless she decides to appeal.

She was being sued for a series of medical errors as she intervened, heavily alcoholic, in the cesarean delivery of Xynthia Hawke, 28, on September 26, 2014.

Settled in France, the young woman, originally from Somerset, in the south of the United Kingdom, had died four days later as a result of a lack of oxygen.

– “Long wait” –

According to the investigation, the doctor, recruited ten days earlier by a clinic in Orthez, had intubated the digestive tract, instead of the respiratory tract. Then she had failed to get the OR’s ventilator on. The Samu had to intervene in the operating room and take care of the patient, “blue”, in cardiorespiratory distress. “It was Baghdad”, described a nurse at the time.

In front of the investigators, the anesthesiologist had admitted to having started his day by drinking vodka mixed with water, “like every day”, to stop shaking and to have drunk again in the evening. But she minimized her responsibility, sometimes discarding the equipment according to her defective, which was false, sometimes on the medical team. At her home, the gendarmes had found 14 bottles of vokda.

Helga Wauters had been recruited in Orthez via an employment agency without any verification of her past. However, in Belgium, she had just been dismissed in 2013 and 2014 for serious misconduct in connection with her addiction.

At the opening of the trial, in a brief statement, the anesthesiologist, “sincerely sorry”, admitted that her addiction was “incompatible” with her profession. “I don’t deserve jail,” she said, however.

“This is the end of a long wait. I am relieved that it is over, we will be able to continue to move forward,” commented Yannick Balthazar, the companion of the victim who is raising their six-year-old son.

“Beyond the prison sentence, the family wish was that Helga Wauters no longer practice (…), that other families no longer have this feeling of having been bruised by medicine “, commented his advice Philippe Courtois.

But for the lawyer, there is now “another fight” to lead to toughen the repression of manslaughter. “Three years” for a “doctor in a state of alcohol is unacceptable”, he said, drawing a parallel with fatal road accidents, punishable by five years in prison.

“Today, justice has gone to the maximum of the law but it is necessary to go beyond and that this aggravating circumstance”, alcohol or narcotics, “can be registered” in the law for all other manslaughter , he explained by announcing that he was going to “get closer to the Minister of Justice”.

The doctor’s lawyer, Me Antoine Vey, did not respond to AFP’s requests.



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