Blind Eye, by James B. Stewart, is a book that tells the true story of Michael Swango, M. D., a doctor accused of being a serial murderer. According to Mr. Stewart, Michael Swango deliberately killed patients on a regular basis. However, because of his standing in the medical community, his record was often overlooked. He lost his job on a number of occasions under a cloud of suspicion, but, unfortunately, the case against him was never strong enough to put him in prison, and simply by moving to a different state, he often managed to find another job.
It started in medical school. Michael Swango had an excellent academic record, yet, bizarrely, had a difficult time applying what he learned; his test scores were exceptional, yet he couldn’t identify the heart on an x-ray and habitually made a mess of any dissection he was involved with. Towards the end of his training, he developed a dark reputation; a higher-than-ordinary number of patients who saw him for simple health exams died suddenly.
His professional career echoed his academic. Death rates had a remarkable tendency to tick upward in those wards and floors in which Michael Swango worked. He chose his victims with care, however, limiting himself to those patients recovering from a serious illness so as to arouse as little suspicion as possible. Unfortunately, as a doctor, he seemingly enjoyed a certain degree of immunity from the law: more often than not, his colleagues didn’t believe the accusations against him and made efforts to ‘protect one of their own.’ They had a tendency to explain away the unexpected deaths that involved him, claiming that patient witnesses were either delusional or unreliable, and the claims of nurses little more than gossip.
According to Stewart, the problem in the Swango case stemmed from the medical practice of peer review. Although, the practice of peer review is necessary for the continuing advance of science and medicine, it has a tendency to foster the notion that only doctors are qualified to make a judgment on another doctor’s work, regardless of the situation. Hence, there is an unwitting tendency to protect ‘rogue’ doctors because doctors have a tendency to take another doctor’s word over that of a nurse or patient. As a result, the medical profession seemed blind to the fact that one of its own could be a serial killer. And because of that, Michael Swango evaded authorities in the United States for years, and ultimately went to Zimbabwe to continue his grisly work.
As a whole, Blind Eye was very informative and worth the read. It makes a compelling argument for additional oversight in the medical profession. According to James B. Stewart, there must be some kind of mechanism to remove, and keep removed, rogue doctors like Michael Swango, so that his murderous practices are never repeated.