Perioperative and anesthetic deaths: toxicological and medico legal aspects

Antonina Argo, Stefania Zerbo, Stefania Zerbo, Steven B. Karch, Roberto Buscemi, Antonietta Lanzarone, Antonina Argo, Roberta Roccuzzo, Antonietta Lanzarone, Calogero Riccardo Buscemi, Roberta Roccuzzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Anesthesia has become safer during decades, though there is still a preventable mortality; the complexity of medical and surgical interventions, increasingly older and sicker patients, has created a host of new hazards in anesthesiology. In this paper, some of these perioperative (PO) fatal adverse events are investigated in terms of health responsibility. Selective literature research in several data bases, concerning perioperative and anesthetic deaths and medical responsibility, was performed. Main text: A generally accepted definition of the anesthesia and perioperatory-related death still remains one of the major concerns in forensic pathology, and the terms “operative deaths” and “anesthetic deaths” are usually applied inaccurately within the medico-legal literature. Such events involve comprehensively PO fatalities and allow for subtle separation of natural and unnatural death, at least from the prospective of forensic pathology. Iatrogenic deaths in this field can be separated into some major categories, as attributable to previous patient’s unfavorable conditions or depending from surgical procedure per se (such as PO cardiac and cerebrovascular events). In this review, the authors carried out syntheses of specific research areas regarding epidemiology, complications of general and spinal anesthetic, failure in airway management and patient’s circulatory homeostasis, and adverse drugs reactions; analysis considering the challenge of anesthetic-related mortality, epidemiology and classifications, by indicating causal chain of death, in respect of both contributing and associated anesthetic and surgery facts. Conclusions: Perioperative quality control programs and its relevance for medico-legal evaluation are emphasized as, although mortality rates have decreased worldwide over the last decades, however, preventable drug-related deaths still happen. Such fatal events have to be considered within the field of forensic pathology experts, with regard of malpractice claims, to implement a strategy for preventing potentially fatal complications.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalEgyptian Journal of Forensic Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Health(social science)
  • Law


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