Paolo Macchiarini: Surgeon convicted for fatal Swedish transplants

By Paul Kirby
BBC News

  • Published
File pic of Paolo Macchiarini from 2016Image source, BBC/SVT/Lars Granstrand
Image caption,
Macchiarini always denied any wrongdoing

A Swedish court has given a disgraced Italian surgeon a suspended sentence for causing bodily harm during an experimental stem-cell windpipe transplant.

Paolo Macchiarini, once seen as a pioneering transplant surgeon, was cleared of two charges of assault.

Three patients treated in Sweden died.

Prosecutors had recommended Macchiarini serve five years in jail but the district court ruled that he had not intended to cause the patients harm.

He consistently denied the charges.

Macchiarini was feted internationally in 2011 for carrying out the world's first synthetic organ transplant at Sweden's Karolinska University Hospital. His work using plastic tracheas with stem cells held out the prospect of patients no longer waiting for donors.

He had been hired a year earlier from Italy, despite damning references from his previous employers.

Andemariam Beyene, a graduate student from Eritrea who received the first transplant in 2011, died two and a half years later after a series of infections. His synthetic trachea was found to have come loose. Shortly after the operation he told the BBC: "I was very scared, very scared about the operation. But it was live or die."

Image source, University of Iceland
Image caption,
Andemariam Beyene met up with Macchiarini in Iceland a year after his operation but later died

Two more patients were also given transplants at the Karolinska hospital and eventually died.

Christopher Lyles from the US was given a synthetic trachea transplant in 2011 and died within months. Yesim Cetir, who was in her twenties, was operated on in 2011 and died in 2017. Other patients treated abroad also died, including Russian mother Julia Tuulik.

Macchiarini was eventually suspended by the acclaimed Karolinska Institute. A TV documentary later exposed alarming practices he carried out during surgery and prosecutors investigated him for criminal wrongdoing.

The case finally came to Solna district court near Stockholm, where he was charged with the criminal offences of aggravated assault and causing bodily harm. However, he was not accused of killing the patients.

Chief judge Bjoern Skaensberg said the court had agreed with prosecutors that the surgery had not been consistent with "science and proven experience". However, he told public broadcaster SVT that it had concluded that "two of the interventions were justifiable, but not the third".

He said the court had found that all three patients had suffered serious bodily injury. But Macchiarini was cleared of assault, he said, because no intent to harm had been proven.

Macchiarini had always denied any wrongdoing, arguing that the transplants were aimed at saving the patients' lives.

However, whistleblower Dr Matthias Corbascio told SVT that the verdict was a scandal and there had never been any chance of the operations succeeding.

The suspended sentence means he will be on probation for the next two years.