German Nurse Who Killed 29 Patients via Euthanasia to Stand Trial

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 6, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

German Nurse Who Killed 29 Patients via Euthanasia to Stand Trial Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 6, 2006

Sonthofen, Germany ( — A German nurse who is accused of killing some 29 patients, many through involuntary euthanasia, is scheduled to go on trial soon. Stephan L., a 27 year-old who has been named the "Angel of Death" in the German media has admitted to giving lethal injections to 16 elderly patients at a local hospital and is likely responsible for 13 more.

Herbert Pollert, the lead prosecutor, said autopsies have been performed on 42 former patients at a hospital in the Bavarian town of Sonthofen and he has sufficient evidence to charge Stephan.

Stephan now faces 16 counts of murder and 12 counts of manslaughter as well as one count of assisted suicide.

The victims all died during the 17 months Stephan worked at the clinic and most of the patients were above the age of 75, though one was as young as 40.

The deaths didn’t raise any red flags at the medical facility because of the patients’ age, but concerns appeared when officials found medications had disappeared.

According to a French Press Agency report, Stephan was finally arrested after authorities found some of the drugs at his home — an amount large enough to have killed 10 more patients.

Stephan has told police he killed the people out of "compassion" for the elderly patients. But Wilhelm Seitz, an attorney for the victims’ families told AFP they didn’t want to die.

"One woman, who is originally from Spain, was discussing with her family that they would cook a paella when she came home and that they would go on holiday. That was the night before she was killed," he said.

He indicated one patient was killed in the moments when her daughter left her bedside and Stephan then attempted to console the woman when she returned to find her mother dead.

"He told her not to be angry with herself because her mother died alone," Seitz told AFP.

Albert Muelle, a lead police investigator, said the nurse has claimed the patients’ deaths were all mercy killings.

However, autopsy reports show at least six of the patients were not terminally ill, which prompted the murder charges in those cases.

Stephan’s attorney blames his actions on a difficult upbringing by an obsessive compulsive mother who forced him to repeated doctors visits.

The nurse used a mixture of a sedative and muscle relaxant to kill the patients, and the drug cocktail would have taken only five minutes to induce death

Germany currently makes assisted suicide illegal and is punishable to between five months and six years in prison.

Eugen Brysch, president of the Deutsche Hospiz Stiftung, which runs a number of nursing homes like the one where Stephan worked, said there need to be reforms to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

"In such places where death is an everyday occurrence, death certificates are often issued too quickly and without much thought, citing causes like cardiac arrest, which mean very little," he told AFP.