The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) is seeking the maximum suspension term of three years for a negligent doctor who used a potent sedative during a liposuction procedure in 2009, causing the death of the patient.
SMC's lawyer also told the Court of Three Judges yesterday that the council would not object if the court decided to strike off Dr Jim Wong Meng Hang for unprecedented professional misconduct that was among "the worst of its kind".
Dr Wong had carried out a liposuction procedure on real estate firm boss Franklin Heng at his Orchard Road clinic in December 2009, but gave the patient too much sedative.
Left unattended, Mr Heng, 44, suffocated when his airway collapsed because of the heavy sedation.
The high-profile case was Singapore's first recorded death as a result of aesthetic treatment.
In 2014, Dr Wong, 43, was fined $26,000 for breaching medical regulations. Dr Zhu Xiu Chun, 55, who assisted him in the procedure, was fined $18,000. In 2016, Dr Wong and Dr Zhu, who is also known as Myint Myint Kyi, were ordered to pay $3.26 million in damages to Mr Heng's family in a civil suit.
About the case
Mr Franklin Heng, who was chief executive of property management firm YTL Pacific Star, died at the age of 44 after a liposuction procedure on Dec 30, 2009. This was carried out at the Reves Clinic in International Building, in Orchard Road.
Dr Jim Wong Meng Hang, who was assisted by Dr Zhu Xiu Chun, sedated Mr Heng before the procedure. Mr Heng was meant to be conscious but was sedated so heavily that he was unable to protest when Dr Wong accidentally punctured his intestines 13 times.
After the procedure, Mr Heng was left alone for several minutes. Dr Wong returned to find him pale and unresponsive. Mr Heng was pronounced dead in hospital later that day.
In 2011, the Ministry of Health tightened licensing rules on liposuction. In 2014, the ministry issued guidelines on safe sedation practices, in response to a trend of more non-anaesthesiologists sedating patients in clinics.
Disciplinary proceedings were also brought against the two doctors, who each pleaded guilty to a charge of professional misconduct.
They admitted that Mr Heng died as a result of their failure to adequately monitor him during the procedure.
SMC, represented by lawyer Philip Fong, sought a three-year suspension for Dr Wong and a two-year suspension for Dr Zhu.
In December last year, a disciplinary tribunal suspended Dr Wong for 18 months and Dr Zhu for six months.
SMC then appealed to the Court of Three Judges.
Mr Fong argued that the "manifestly inadequate" suspension terms for gross negligence would severely undermine public confidence in the medical profession.
He argued that Dr Wong deserved the maximum suspension because his negligence had led directly to the patient's death.
"Causing the death of a patient is the ultimate harm a doctor can cause," he said.
When the judges raised the possibility of striking him off the register of medical practitioners, Mr Fong said he would not object.
As for Dr Zhu, he said the only thing in her favour was that she was roped in at the last minute by Dr Wong to help.
Dr Wong also appealed, arguing that his 18-month suspension was too severe. He sought a six-month suspension.
His lawyer Christopher Chong argued that Dr Wong's sentence should have been reduced because of the SMC's delay in conducting the disciplinary proceedings.
Dr Zhu's lawyer, Mr S. Selveraj, said the sentence was "reasonable" for the role she played.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash reserved judgment after hearing the arguments. The court will give its decision at a later date.