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Letters • February 22 2004

The medico-legal aspect of the Andrea Massa case

C Bartolo

As a relative of Andrea Massa, the seven-year old child from Naxxar who died in St Luke’s Hospital on 28 February 2001 after an appendicitis operation, I would like to make an appeal to the public in order to show solidarity with the child’s parents who, despite the lapse of three years since the case, are today still suffering the repercussions of this tragedy.
In fact, today everybody still asks how it could be possible for a child, described by the court experts as: “This 7 year old child was previously healthy” and “The corpse is that of a well-built and well-nourished child,” to die merely a week after having been admitted to hospital. Although it appears that the facts have now begun to emerge, surely the description given on oath to the court by one of the surgeons who operated upon the child, is an indication of the appalling state in which the child was found immediately following the second operation performed in hospital, in an attempt to save his life: “The boy looked sick, he avoided movements and looked slightly dehydrated. There were no bowel sounds. All these were signs of peritonitis. These are the classical symptoms of peritonitis. The post operative wound was infected and leaking pus. The supra-pubic area and the scrotum were swollen. My diagnosis was one of peritonitis with beginning septic shock and organ failure.”
I am convinced that the diagnosis would not surprise anyone, especially in view of the fact that on Monday 26 February 2001, that is, the day before the second operation was performed there was no consultant on duty in the Paediatric Ward for the entire day. In fact, from the evidence produced in the case, it results that the consultant, who was meant to have taken over from the on-duty consultant that day, was only informed of his duties at a quarter to midnight on Monday 26 February 2001, that is, practically a day after the on-duty consultant was supposed to have taken sick leave. Consequently, the child was left without the necessary medical attention his particular condition required, for an entire day.
As everyone is already aware, an unexpected turn of events shook Andrea’s case even further last year, when suddenly, without warning, the Attorney General presented a declaration in the Criminal Court dated 12 February 2003, whereby he classified the case as nolle prosequi: “once it is deemed that there do not subsist sufficient reasons for an indictment to be issued against the Pediatric consultant, the Attorney General does not intend that this Bill of Indictment be issued.”
However, the explanation given by the Minister of Justice and the Interior in the context of PQ Number 1446, indicated that the decision to issue a nolle prosequi was taken in view of the fact that the prosecution, as well as the parte civile, had no further evidence to produce in connection with the case. In fact, the Minister of Justice claimed, in the same PQ that: “if they had any further evidence to produce, they should have produced this before the magistrate compiling the evidence in the case, or at least, they should have given an indication that there was in fact further evidence to be brought.” The Minister also declared that the records of the case were not returned for the continuation of the production of evidence, since there was no indication that there was indeed further evidence to be brought.
These declarations are certainly unacceptable, especially in view of the fact that the child’s parents were anxiously awaiting the moment when justice would be dispensed in this case and, those who were directly or indirectly responsible for the death of their son, would be made to answer for their shortcomings in this respect.
Before I conclude my appeal, I would also to take this opportunity to refer to the latest PQ 3849, and would comment that the Attorney General no longer needs to protect the confidentially or identity of the child, since it is common knowledge that the child’s name was Andrea Massa. The protection that was required by the child was needed in February 2001 when he was recovering in hospital, and not now at this stage. The public would now like to be duly informed of the circumstances and details that caused the death of this child, which details are soon to be revealed to the public.
It is now up to the public to judge whether the parents of the child are justified to request that those responsible, whether directly or indirectly, for the death of their son, answer for their wrong-doings and whether, despite the passage of time, they should continue to insist that the entire truth regarding this case, is revealed and that due justice, is served.



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