Back in 2018, the Dr. Death podcast took the world by storm when we learned about the killer doctor, Christopher Duntsch. Then, we were reminded once again of the deadly doctor's acts in the Peacock miniseries, Dr. Death, starring Joshua Jackson as the title character. Now, we're learning more about the true story of this horrific tale with Peacock's Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story.
The docuseries aims to show the real people who were harmed by Dr. Death, some of whom are still alive today to share their stories. And the biggest question on everyone’s mind is why Dr. Death did it. Was he intentionally harming people, or was he just that inadequate of a doctor?
Dr. Death maimed 33 patients and killed two all within two years of operating, but few people know why.
Christopher Duntsch was just a regular guy who became Dr. Death after he decided to be a neurosurgeon. To become a neurosurgeon, one typically has to complete over 1000 surgeries in residency, but somehow, reporter Laura Beil discovered that Duntsch only completed 100.
Before going to medical school, Duntsch wanted to be a pro-football player. He played football in high school, but teammates say he was so bad that, no matter how much he practiced, he could never make it.
However, he had such a big ego that he never thought he could fail. To some, this came off as confidence, but as he brought his ego into medicine, doctors around him started to recognize him as a textbook case of narcissism.
Not only did he harm his patients, but he kept trying to practice. Most doctors would pull themselves out of the field after a few botched surgeries because of the guilt they have to carry after permanently hurting someone.
Duntsch, on the other hand, recorded fake testimonials to open his own practice and hopped from hospital to hospital to keep trying to practice medicine as a neurosurgeon. In addition, he was mixed up with an addiction to cocaine and other drugs, with peers reporting that he would go on all-night benders before operating the next day.
But was he just an inadequate addict? Or did he have an ulterior motive to maim, torture, and even kill some of his patients?
Everyone wants to know why Dr. Death did what he did.
Why did Dr. Death do it? That’s the question on everyone’s minds, including Beil’s, the reporter who initially broke the story on her Wondery podcast. In a 2018 Reddit AMA, one user asked her, “In your opinion, was Duntsch really a ‘cold-blooded killer’ like he wrote in his email, or was he a poorly and undertrained drugged-up neurosurgeon with an ego the size of Tennessee?”
Her response echoed what she shared on the podcast. “I really wish I knew…” she said. “At any given moment in doing the reporting, I had a different answer. (But he was clearly poorly trained with an ego the size of Tennessee).” A lot of people seem to think it’s a mix between narcissism and inadequacy.
The cast of ‘Dr. Death’ weighed in on why they think he did it.
Joshua Jackson, who plays Duntsch, and AnnaSophia Robb, who plays assistant district attorney Michelle Shughart, the real-life prosecutor responsible for putting Duntsch behind bars, spoke with The Wrap about why they think Dr. Death did it.
“My take on it is, for him, it was hubris,” Jackson mused. “The more it became untrue that Duntsch was a good surgeon and it was so obvious and evident from everything that was going on in his life, the more he had to believe over and above everybody else … Backed into the corner of his whole life falling apart, he was even more certain of his brilliance at the end than he was at the beginning.”
However, Jackson’s castmate felt differently. “I think it was a mixture of both intent and ineptitude,” Robb explained. “[Michelle] saw how he was manipulative and sort of narcissistic … it was like a mixture of drugs, I think hubris, I think narcissism ... I think some of them he probably did intentionally.”
Many doctors indeed believe that Duntsch knew what he was doing — they said it’s like he knew what to do and did the exact opposite.
While we’ll never know exactly why Dr. Death did it until he speaks publicly on it, which he has continued to refuse to do, we can continue to theorize.
Dr. Death and Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story are now available to stream on Peacock.