There was a time in the early 2000s when Paolo Macchiarini was a world-renowned thoracic surgeon with an enviable roster of celebrity patients. He’d pioneered a groundbreaking transplant operation involving the world’s first plastic organs, which not only made him fabulously wealthy but also brought him plaudits from top scientists and doctors. Macchiarini’s VIP patients reportedly included Pope Francis, President Obama, and Hillary Clinton, and he also worked for a time at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, which awards the Nobel Prize in medicine.
Macchiarini’s seemingly perfect veneer, however, obscured a chilling truth: He’d carved a path to riches and notoriety, while also leaving a trail of dead patients in his wake. Bad Surgeon: Love Under the Knife is a new three-part Netflix docuseries from director Ben Steele that probes the story of the now-disgraced doctor — and, specifically, the fight to hold him accountable for nearly all of his transplant patients dying.
Thanks to its collision of science, crime, ethics, and even love, Bad Surgeon unfolds like a riveting thriller, which has also helped make it the #1 Netflix series in the US at the moment.
According to the streamer, Macchiarini’s transplant operation involved plastic windpipes infused with stem cells. When his patients kept dying after their transplants, the doctor brushed it off as something to be expected from an experimental surgery. Skeptics eventually began taking a closer look at him, but they faced an uphill battle. Journalists, for example, at one point brought evidence against the surgeon to the Karolinska Institute, which pushed back and stuck up for the doctor.
According to a 2018 essay from Benita Alexander, Macchiarini’s former fiancee, Swedish prosecutors would later find that Paolo never performed the animal experiments required before doing experimental surgeries on human beings. “In addition,” she continues, “he not only lied about having the scientific evidence he needed to operate, he didn’t stop, even when his patients started dying. He literally used people as guinea pigs.
“I spoke to doctors and scientists who call him a ‘murderer,’ I had heartbreaking meetings with the anguished families of his patients. No one I spoke to could fathom what drove him to lie to so many people.”
Bad Surgeon is a Netflix series about the right to bring the doctor to justice, and it includes interviews with families of his victims, as well as Alexander plus colleagues-turned-whistleblowers. Check out a trailer for the series below.