There’s something eerie about watching a true crime story. From Netflix’s The Serpent to Crime Scene, there’s been a rise in TV shows illuminating the truly despicable acts everyday people commit. And, it looks like Peacock is following the trend too, with the release of its new Joshua Jackson-starring miniseries, Dr. Death.
Doctors, among other professions, are people you believe you can trust. They swore an oath, promising to do no harm. But, Dr.Death shows not only the power doctors hold but also the gaps in the healthcare system that fail to protect patients. This miniseries follows neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch (nicknamed Dr. Death and played by actor Joshua Jackson) and his less than two-year stint at a Dallas hospital where he performed numerous surgeries, harming dozens of patients.
The thing about serial killers is that they are charismatic; they lure you in with false promises and safety. Duntsch, a blue-eyed blonde with a nice smile, did just that. He soothed patients’ fears, calmed down their loved ones, and promised that everything was going to be okay. One of his patients, Kellie Martin, went in for routine surgery to fix a herniated disk in her back. What was supposed to be a 45-minute procedure took hours, and her husband Don, sat in the waiting room until the ICU doctor delivered the news: Kellie was dead. A coroner would later reveal that Duntsch “accidentally” sliced an artery, leaving Kellie bleeding to death. This case is only one of 33 where Dr.Death either paralyzed, killed, or permanently injured his patients.
Surgeons Robert Henderson and Randall Kirby attempted to intervene after noticing a pattern in Duntsch’s patients. But they were too late—by the time a report came in, six months had passed and several patients were harmed from Duntsh’s botched surgeries. “It seems to be the custom and practice,” Kay Van Wey, a Dallas plaintiff’s attorney who represented 14 of Duntsch’s patients, said in an interview with ProPublica. “Kick the can down the road and protect yourself first, and protect the doctor second and make it be somebody else’s problem.”
After a report came in, it was almost a year later before the Texas Medical Board began investigating the issue. All the while, Duntsch continued practicing. Patients attempted to sue Dr.Death, but the 2003 Texas enact reform, which lowered the amount of damages patients can win, prevented anyone from finding malpractice lawyers.
Where is Dr.Death now?
When the healthcare system failed to hold Dr.Death accountable, the criminal justice system stepped in. Dallas prosecutors arrested Duntsch in July 2015 and charged him with the assault and injury to an elderly person. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to life behind bars in 2017. While originally charged with five counts of assault, he was only indicted for the injury of Mary Efurd as her injuries held the most weight in court, according to the Washington Post.
As for the medical system that failed these patients, no accountability was given. The same gaps that allowed Dr.Death to kill and injure patients still exist to this day. We can only hope that next time—because there’s always a next time—a patient is protected sooner.
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