Sunday, October 22, 2006

For the first time in Canada, a psychiatrist has been held civilly responsible for a murder committed by a patient she released.

As reported in the Toronto Sun, the Globe and Mail, and elsewhere.


Just two months before his psychiatrist released him, a Consent and Capacity Review Board turned down his bid to get out: "Without treatment, there is a likelihood that the patient if he left hospital ... will cause serious bodily harm to another person."

In mid-October, Stefaniu herself wrote: "Further deterioration of his mental state with potential for self harm and/or harassing others."

A forensic psychiatrist called in by the hospital to assess him in November agreed he "posed a potential danger."

On Dec. 2, Stefaniu wrote that he "remains delusional and paranoid."

The next day, nurses' notes described Johannes as "extremely hostile" with threatening body language. On Dec. 4, he threatened a nurse.

Yet that very night, Stefaniu examined him and suddenly concluded he was no longer paranoid or psychotic. She was now convinced by his new argument that he had faked it all, that his behaviour had been "staged and planned."

"I think she was just fed up," Lailah believes. "Maybe she was tired of dealing with him or she was just careless, but it just didn't make sense for her to let him out."

But the next day, she did just that, changing his patient status from involuntary to voluntary, and allowing Johannes back into the community.

On Jan. 24, 1997, he brutally stabbed his sister to death in her home.

"Our mom was there in the morning when we went to school," Lelise recalls softly, "and then she wasn't there anymore."

Half their lives later, and the tears still fall. "We were just little girls," Lailah says, wiping them away. "We depended on her for everything. There was never anyone there to teach us how to grow up from a girls' point of view.

"Our dad did the best he could, but we never had any close aunts or a grandmother -- it was just us and it was hard."

Their memories of her have begun to fade. Lailah clings to how her mom smelled like winter when she tucked them in at night and how she'd let them do her makeup. For Lelise, there is the aching emptiness of being too young to have known her well. "There's so much I want to know about her childhood, about her life, and I have a lot of questions that will go unanswered."

She should be with them now, seeing how they've graduated and grown into accomplished young women with dreams of becoming doctors themselves.

She should be with them today, to wipe away that tear that slips down Lailah's cheek at mention of her memory, to smile with pride as Lelise speaks so eloquently of their pursuit of justice.

She should be with them, but she is not. Roslyn Knipe was brutally murdered almost 10 years ago, stabbed 60 times and mutilated by a mentally ill brother who should never have been allowed to leave the psychiatric unit of Humber Memorial Hospital.

"It could have been prevented," argues Lelise Ahmed, Knipe's 19-year-old daughter.

"To us, it seemed obvious that something had gone very wrong," adds her older sister, Lailah, 20. "From the facts, we knew this wasn't the way it was supposed to happen and someone should take responsibility for it."

Now Ontario's highest court has agreed, unanimously upholding last year's jury verdict awarding the girls and their father $172,000 after finding Dr. Rodica Stefaniu negligent for releasing William Johannes from Humber on Dec. 5, 1996

The Ontario Court of Appeal decision Friday is precedent-setting, says their lawyer Brian Horowitz. For the first time in Canada, a psychiatrist has been held civilly responsible for a murder committed by a patient she released.

"If they're doing their jobs properly, it shouldn't have any effect," he says, dismissing claims that it will have a dangerous chilling effect on doctors. "But it's a reminder to the medical profession that these are very important decisions."

No comments: