Marlowe's Shade

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

More on Euthanasia and "Angels of Death"

After this post I think I'll give the Hall of Shame a rest for a while. This whole inquiry has been darker and more sinister than I expected and I need a break from it.

As part of my follow up reading on yesterday's post I came across a paper by Dr Philip Jenkins of PSU. The main point was around the inordinate media attention that the "classic" serial killers receive which is out of proportion to the percentage of all murderers that they represent. As part of his argument he points out that although objective data doesn't seem to be publicly available, medical serial killers have overwhelmingly higher body counts.

Often, the resulting statistics are extremely unreliable, but since offenders had got away with their misdeeds for so long, victim totals in medical murders are often shockingly large. Donald Harvey probably killed almost sixty people between 1970 and 1987, while some sources suggest that Swango claimed over a hundred lives: others suggest a total nearer 35. Within the last few years, other such “angel of death” cases have surfaced. In a still unresolved case, Efren Saldivar was accused in 1998 of being responsible for perhaps forty or fifty deaths of hospital patients (Lieberman 2000). The following year, Orville Lynn Majors was convicted of six such deaths, but was commonly believed to be linked to perhaps a hundred in all (Dedman 1999). Nor are such cases this a new phenomenon. Arguably, America’s most prolific serial killer may be Amy Archer Gilligan, who according to some accounts might have been responsible for over a hundred deaths in the old people’s facility at which she worked between about 1912 and 1914. In other countries, too, medical killers have been linked to extraordinarily large numbers of victims. In Austria in the early 1990s, a group of medical personnel were linked to the murders of over forty patients (Protzman, 1991). In Great Britain, one of the great crime scandals of modern times involved Dr. Harold Shipman, convicted in 2000 of murdering fifteen women by morphine injections. Estimates of the total number of victims remain uncertain, but the final tally is certainly not less than a hundred, and may well approach two hundred (Carter 2000).

He then makes the unsettling point that the medical serial killers who are caught usually were less skilled and often made a series of blunders before they were detected. It leaves open the possibility that a smarter killer could go completely unnoticed.

My concern is that if this is possible in the current medical environment, then it will only be more likely as the right-to-die agenda takes hold. In this article two murderous nurses are featured from the Netherlands where euthanasia has been legal for years. In general there seem to be many cases from Europe where compassion for suffering is offered (untruthfully I think) as a motive by medical serial killers when they are caught.

I don't want to make the mistake of the mainstream media in overstating a threat, but I did an unscientific survey of 23 cases worldwide in the past century of medical killers with over seven victims. What was frightening was, as Dr Jenkins pointed out above, how only the most blatant offenders were convicted. In this recent case the accused was acquitted despite bragging of the patients deaths:

Bardgett was allegedly heard bragging to nurses about the deaths, saying such things as, "I killed another. I just killed Clara." He also referred to himself as "Angel of Death" or "Angel of Mercy." One person said that he had bragged about killing three patients, but the body of one had been cremated before it could be investigated for traces of morphine. He was also seen by several witnesses acting arrogantly and happy after the deaths, and a funeral director called his behavior, "Unusual ...almost as if he was on a natural high."

Bardgett's attorney defends the comments and the nickname of "Angel of Death." According to reports in The Boston Globe, he stated that Bardgett was only referring to the fact "that he had encountered many deaths while working as an emergency medical technician." Bardgett's statement, "I killed this patient," was also dismissed as meaningless--- just the remarks of a cocky man who made inappropriate comments.

Here's the rub: there is already a closed culture in the medical profession that allows killers to hide and claim shocking numbers of victims. This crimes [while spanning years or decades] seem to emerge at the rate of one every four years with an average victim count (conservatively) of more than fifty. And it would seem that this represents a fraction of the cases that are discovered and reported. This alone points out some real problems in our medical system, which obviously will only get worse as the Culture of Death becomes entrenched in our health facilities.
papijoe 6:43 AM