Czech Republic Hospital Nurse Accused of Killing Seven Elderly Patients

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 5, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Czech Republic Hospital Nurse Accused of Killing Seven Elderly Patients Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 5
, 2006

Prague, Czech Republic ( — A nurse in this eastern European nation has admitted to killing seven patients and attempting to murder ten more is the latest case of a medical professional taking a patient’s end of life decisions into his own hands.

Responding to the charges, nurse Petr Zelenka, who has admitted killing the patients, put forward what observers say is a dubious response claiming he wanted to "test" the knowledge of the patient’s doctors.

His defense attorney Vitezslav Mensik told Czech media that Zelenka nurse in the Havlickuv Brod, east Bohemia, hospital, killed the patients with excessive doses of the anticoagulant heparin.

According to Mensik, Zelenka says he wanted to "confuse the doctors involved" and said he thought he would get away with killing the patients without authorities finding out.

Police told Czech media that the killings occurred at the Havlickuv Brod hospital in the anesthesia resuscitation ward where Zelenka worked. They doubt the nurse’s stated reasons and say they will allow psychologists to examine Zelenka to determine if they think he is telling the truth.

Pavel Longin, chief surgeon of the ward, indicated Zelenka was cunning about how he euthanized the patients. He said the nurse never administered the drug directly to the patients but gave it to those who other staff members treated shortly before ending a shift.

The signs of overdose did not appear until during the next shift and the deaths seemed to implicate other staff members.

Meanwhile the daily Lidove newspaper writes that the Havlickuv Brod hospital is considering compensating the families of the victims, including the 10 patients Zelenka did not successfully kill.

"We’ll discuss it with lawyers," hospital director Josef Pejchl told the paper.

Police spokeswoman Iva Markova said in a statement posted on the Interior Ministry’s Web site yesterday, "These acts were committed in a very abominable manner on helpless people."

Zelenka was arrested on December 1 and could face 15 years or more in prison. He worked at the hospital for seven years and was fired in September after accusations of the euthanasia bids surfaced.

The patients he killed were mostly older, between the ages of 56 and 78.

This is the third time this year a nurse from a European nation was prosecuted for killing patients.

In July, Lucia de Berk was sentenced to life in prison for killing seven patients by poisoning. Last month, a German nurse, Stephan Letter, was found guilty of 12 counts of murder, 15 counts of manslaughter and one count of illegal mercy killing.