‘Dr. Death’ is an American crime series that follows the chilling trail of death and misery left in the wake of Dr. Christopher Duntsch. The highly qualified neurosurgeon blatantly abandons his Hippocratic Oath and, much to the horror of his colleagues, injures one patient after the other as they lie helpless on the operating table before him. The task of bringing him to justice proves to be much more complicated than imagined as there are major medical institutions and copious amounts of money involved in the high-level surgeon’s career.
A case like this has never been brought before a criminal court and what ensues is a twisted saga of systemic failings and sociopathic tendencies. Let’s take a closer look at this especially unnerving medical drama and see where the sadistic doctor ends up. Here’s ‘Dr. Death’ season 1 ending, explained. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Dr. Death Season 1 Recap
The season opens with Dr. Robert Henderson (Bob) performing a revision surgery on a patient after she complained of severe pain following a procedure performed by Dr. Duntsch (Chris). Bob is horrified when he realizes just how badly Chris has botched the procedure and finds bone fragments as well as a misplaced screw in the ailing woman. He, along with Dr. Randall Kirby, who has performed surgery alongside Chris and has been equally horrified by the man’s barbaric abuse of his patient, set out to bring to light the actions of the rogue neurosurgeon.
Bob and Randall soon discover that despite his abysmal patient history (as most of his patients are left maimed after he has operated on them), Chris has received recommendations from his previous employers and supervisors which have allowed him to continue getting hired by prestigious institutions. As they watch in horror, he continues to operate on patients and leaves them permanently paralyzed and with chronic conditions, as well as causing 2 fatalities.
Their pleas to the district attorney to take action against Chris also fall on deaf ears as the government official is convinced that it will be impossible to convict a doctor for crimes that can be passed off as accidents or negligence. However, the case is eventually taken up by the young and driven assistant district attorney Michelle Stughart who decides to go after Chris for elder abuse.
Meanwhile, we are shown details of Chris’ days at his university and residency, where he abuses his credentials to give his friends fake prescriptions and liberally abuses drugs himself. His high school friend and drug peddler Jerry becomes his constant companion and the two eventually move to Dallas, Texas, where Chris becomes a highly paid neurosurgeon at the prestigious Baylor Medical Center. He also continues to be a board member of an institute called DiscGenics that he started in cooperation with Russian researchers and various investors during his residency under Dr. Geoffrey Skadden.
Dr. Death Season 1 Ending: Does Christopher Duntsch Get Caught?
As a last-ditch attempt to bring his alleged crimes to public attention, ADA Stughart shares Chris’ incriminating patient files with The Observer. The publication publishes the story, referring to Chris as “Dr. Death” on the cover, leading to the rogue neurosurgeon’s Texas medical license finally getting suspended. Chris is subsequently arrested and his trial begins, by which time he is essentially broke and being supported by his father. His defense team tries to prove that Chris is an under-qualified surgeon who slipped through the cracks due to the oversight of the institutions where he studied and worked.
However, the 33 botched surgeries that he performs, along with the nerve-wracking testimonies given by his victims (or their surviving partners) provide the overwhelming evidence needed to convict him. The season closes with Chris finally in prison, but with ominous facts about how doctor abuse remains a rampant issue that will continue despite the imprisonment of one of its worst perpetrators to date.
So Dr. Christopher Duntsch finally goes to prison for his crimes. Though this conclusion is by no means a happy one, it is fitting. The rogue neurosurgeon, according to the postscripts, is given life in prison with the earliest possibility of parole on July 20, 2045, by when he will be 74 years old. Despite his many crimes that have included rampant drug abuse and actions that have led to the death of 2 patients and the permanent maiming of over 30 others, he is eventually convicted under the charges of elder abuse. This is due to the strategy employed by the prosecuting ADA Stughart, who realizes that to criminally convict him, she needs to prove that Chris himself is a criminal and not just a result of the greed and oversight of medical institutions.
Despite Chris’ defense team trying to pin the blame on his lack of proper training and supervisors with financial interests, the fact that Chris plans on resuming performing surgeries despite his abysmal history with patients proves that his intentions are sinister. This comes out in the open when his father, whilst being questioned in court, admits the Chris is in the process of trying to obtain a medical license in the state of Colorado to be able to afford an elite legal team that will bury the case against him. By the end, having seen the overwhelming evidence against him and realizing that his son is beyond help, his father tells him that perhaps it is best if he remains in prison.
Why do the Hospitals Not Report Christopher Duntsch Sooner?
As Bob and Randall slowly discover as they dig deeper into Chris’ sordid case history, the institutions that have hired him in the past have all had financial reasons for doing so. During his residency, being a brilliant researcher, Chris managed to get funding and launched a cutting-edge institute called DiscGenics. His supervisor Dr. Geoffrey Skadden invested in the venture and therefore allowed Chris to continue performing surgeries despite his obvious lack of skill. We see proof of this during a surgery where Skadden needs to hold Chris’ hand while the latter attempts a procedure.
Chris is also not reported because he keeps insisting that his surgeries are perfect and that he performs them by the book. Being adept at the academic aspect of neurosurgery, his notes prior to going into surgery are always faultless. Therefore, despite him undergoing multiple investigations following botched surgeries at Baylor, he is acquitted and allowed to continue operating.
Even when he is finally let go, he manages to convince the Baylor administrator that he has the power to sue them for wrongful termination since his surgeries are, in theory, sound. Because he is genuinely very knowledgeable, most institutions shy away from actively confronting him and instead are happy to just see him leave and become someone else’s problem.
The money that neurosurgeons bring in, which is to the tune of millions of dollars, is also what makes Chris attractive to medical institutes and hospitals. This is why he is able to get a position at University General Hospital after being let go from both Baylor and Dallas Medical Centers. Lastly, the patients, or “victims,” of Chris’ surgeries choose not to pursue legal action as most of them are exhausted and maimed after their first encounter with him. Therefore, there is no pressure on the callous surgeon or the institutes that hired him to come forward or change their ways.
What Happens to Kim Morgan?
Dr. Kim Morgan is possibly the closest witness to Chris’ medical atrocities and joins him as an assistant physician soon after he moves to Texas. Chris’ other companions Jerry (a drug peddler) and Wendy (a former exotic dancer) are both oblivious of just how dangerous their friend is. However, Kim, being a qualified doctor, realizes how unethical his actions are. After the fatal surgery of Shelley Brennan, who came in for a simple procedure only to soon after die on Chris’ operating table, the tormented assistant of the murderous surgeon cannot take it anymore and walks out of their office.
Chris is then seen stalking her, which results in Kim getting a restraining order against him, which he violates a few times. Eventually, in a bid to leave the sordid situation behind, Kim enlists in the Air Force and is deployed to an unnamed country that she says is on the other side of the world. She does, however, testify against Chris during the case and helps bring him to justice.
Read More: Is Dr. Death a True Story?