French Psychiatrist Convicted of Manslaugher After Patient Commits Murder

A French psychiatrist has been convicted of manslaughter for failing to recognize that one of her patients was a potential threat.   In what has been described as a groundbreaking case, psychiatrist Daniele Canarelli was charged after one of her patients, Joel Gaillard, commited a gruesome axe murder in 2004.    The murder of an elderly man took place three weeks after Gaillard fled an appointment with Canarelli who is based out of the Edouard Toulouse hospital in Marseilles, France.  Despite recommendations from colleagues that she place Gaillard in a specialized care unit over his worsening condion,  Dr.  Canarelli refused to act.  She was treating him for paranoid schizophrenia for four years and he  had already been forcibly committed to psychiatric hospitals on several previous occasions due to violent incidents.   Though she notified police and other authorities after Gaillard fled the hospital, the court maintained that she should have taken stronger action.

Shortly after fleeing the appointment, Gallaird used an axe to kill  Germain Trabuc, the 80-year old partner of his grandmother, in a small town in the French Alps.   Following his arrest, he was judged to be criminally irresponsible for his actions and sentenced to a psychiatric hospital.   The children of the dead man subsequently filed complaints against Dr. Canarelli and the hospital where she worked.   While the hospital was found guilty of negligence in 2009, the complex legal questions involved in charging a psychiatrist with manslaughter delayed the settlement of Dr. Canarelli's case until this year.

In ruling against Dr. Canarelli, the court accused her of showing a form of "blindness"  and that she had committed a "grave error" in failing to recognized that her patient was dangerous.  Along with a one-year suspended sentence, she was also ordered to pay 8,500 euros to the victim's sons.  The verdict has generated considerable controversy in France's psychiatric community.  The French psychiatric union, Syndicat des Psychiatres d'Exercice Publiqe (SPEP) has warned that the decision against Dr. Canarelli could set a dangerous precedent with psychiatrist recommending harsher legal actions against mentally ill patients to avoid being accused of negligence. 

In commenting on the decision the victim's son, Michel Trabuc, expressed hope that the case would set a legal precedent.   "There's no such thing as zero risk, but I hope this will move psychiatry forward and, above all, that it will never happen again."  he added.  In a remarkable move, psychiatric staff protested the courtroom on the first day of Dr. Canarelli's trial with banners, one of which read "Dark Day for Psychiatry."    The controversy over this decision is likely to extend far beyond France.

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