Bad Surgeon: Love Under the Knife, directed by Ben Steele, is a Netflix documentary about one of the biggest medical frauds in medical history. The doctor, whom people believed to be their messiah, turned out to be an attention-seeking fraudster who crossed everything ethical boundary for his own selfish interests. So, let’s find out what Dr. Paolo Macchiarini did, how he was caught, and where he is as of now.
Did Paolo Macchiarini suffer from a superiority complex?
Whoever knew Paolo Macchiarini said that the man absolutely loved staying in the limelight. Apart from wanting to be the center of attention, Paolo often said that he was above everyone else. The man told his patients to put their faith in him, as, after God, only he had the power to save their lives. At the beginning of the documentary, Bad Surgeon: Love Under the Knife, we believed that it was a possibility that the synthetic transplants he was putting in the human body didn’t work, but that necessarily didn’t mean that he was a bad man. He was more than cordial with his patients, and he made sure that they had all the comfort they sought. He understood that most of them were suffering from terminal illnesses, which is why it was his duty to come into their lives with a glimmer of hope. A person who was on his deathbed obviously felt indebted to the man, as in almost all the cases, he was the only doctor who told them that he would try his best to save their lives. But only after the surgery did they realize what the fraudster had done.
Paolo was a flamboyant man, and he had that kind of aura that could sway anybody. He had an intimidating yet charming personality, which is why people wanted to put their faith in him. He told the world that he had found a way to transplant a synthetic organ into a human body, and overnight, he was made the most sought-after medical practitioner in the entire world. The media houses covered his story, and Paolo felt ecstatic, as that was exactly what he wished to have in life. Kalle Grinnemo, a colleague who worked with him at the Karolinska Institute, always felt that there was something very mysterious about the guy. He always had this feeling that this man was an excellent manipulator who would never let other people know what was going on inside his mind. Probably, the entire Prince Charming aura helped him woo multiple ladies in his life who had no clue what kind of manipulator he was.
Be it Benita Alexander or Ana Paula Bernardes Pedrosa, he made sure that they never got to know about his reality. It also proved the fact that the man was a compulsive liar and unnecessarily lied to them in places where there was no need to do so. We understand that he wanted attention, and he faked the research reports so that he could do experimental surgeries on humans and become famous, but what we do not understand is why he had to create an entirely fake narrative about his wedding. He told Benita that the Pope himself would be marrying them and that, from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, everybody was going to be present at their wedding. Benita would have married him readily, even if he hadn’t told such lies. He did it because he liked to show off his opulence, the kind of high-level contacts he had, and how he was no less than royalty himself. The moment anybody questioned Paolo’s credibility, he became very defensive and arrogant in his approach, and a very different side of him came out. Paolo started believing that he would get away with whatever he was doing, but he probably underestimated the integrity and conscience of those few who considered him a threat.
How did Paolo’s research misconduct come to light?
Bosse Lindquist, a Swedish journalist from Public Service Television, and much before him, three of Paolo’s colleagues, Kalle Grinnemo, Matthias Corbascio, and Oscar, had found inconsistencies in the research that he had published. They found out that no animal trial had ever been conducted, and Paolo kept stalling the question if anybody asked him about it. He always said that the trials were conducted in Russia and were a success, but to date, he hasn’t been able to provide any proof for the same. The three doctors knew that the administration of the Karolinska Institute would not save them and would probably take action against them, but they still risked their careers and their lives and went ahead and reported the issue. Somehow, their report got leaked, and the New York Times published it on November 24, 2014. They had mentioned in the report that the nude plastic tube used by Dr. Paolo for all the patients did not have any mucous membrane, and the plastic was not bathed with stem cells, as he had told the media.
During his investigation, Bosse came across a documentary made on a patient named Julia Tuulik in which it was shown how Paolo saved the girl by doing the transplant surgery. After a little bit of research, Bosse got his hands on the unused footage and found out that Julia had died just sometime after the surgery, and it was because of the synthetic windpipe that was used by Dr. Paolo. Bosse met Matthias Corbascio, and that was when he realized that the doctors knew about everything, yet the hospital administration gave Paolo the green light. It was Bosse’s documentary that forced the authorities to take some action, and it also brought out the fact that the media houses had made him out to be a super surgeon when nobody cared to do a thorough background check on his research work.
Where is Dr. Paolo now?
Paolo Macchiarini was charged with three counts of aggravated assaults, but on April 27, 2022, the court found him not guilty of two of them. In the third count, he was found guilty of bodily harm. Paolo and the prosecution were both unsatisfied with the verdict. Paolo, even then, had the self-belief that he would not be charged at all, and the prosecution, on the other hand, believed that he should be charged for all three counts as it was blatantly clear that even after knowing everything, he had risked the lives of his patients. We believe that the prosecution was absolutely right in thinking so. The man knew from the very beginning that his synthetic windpipes did not work, but he still went ahead with the surgery. He saw Julia in a state of extreme discomfort, and not even once did he feel any sort of regret or guilt about it. We don’t understand why he did that when he knew that sooner or later, the results would be in front of the world. Maybe he considered himself above law and order, which was why he felt that he would be able to hide his crimes. In June 2023, Macchiarini was convicted of aggravated assault on all three patients, i.e., Andemariam Beyene, Christopher Lyles, and Yesim Cetir. He was sentenced to merely two years and six months in prison, though we believe that after what he did, he should have gotten life imprisonment, if not more.