bulletSwiss Nurse Confesses to 27 Mercy Killings
bulletRight-To-Die Couple Get OK for Legal Challenge
bulletHeart Transplant Pioneer Barnard Dies Aged 78
bulletScientist Says Mind Continues After Brain Dies By Sarah Tippit
bulletU.K. Organ Scandal Doctor Pleads Guilty in Canada

Tuesday September 11 7:35 AM ET

bulletSwiss Nurse Confesses to 27 Mercy Killings

ZURICH (Reuters) - A Swiss nurse who confessed to the ''mercy'' killings of nine elderly women in July has admitted responsibility for 18 more deaths of old people in nursing homes and hospitals, officials said Tuesday.

The man Swiss media have dubbed the ``Angel of Death'' told investigators he had put his victims -- mostly old women -- out of their misery by injecting them with drug overdoses or smothering them with plastic bags and towels.

Sometimes the 32-year-old man, who authorities did not name, drugged them first and then blocked their nose and mouth until they stopped breathing, investigating magistrate Orvo Nieminen said in a statement. ``As far as his motive goes, he is sticking to his previous comments that he acted out of sympathy, compassion, empathy and salvation of the people involved,'' the magistrate said.

``On the other hand, he also acknowledged that in several cases he had been overwhelmed by caring for the people involved. He added that in some cases he felt relieved, somehow liberated, after the person had died.'' The case has shocked the country despite its relatively lenient attitude to euthanasia.

The original nine deaths came to light at the end of May after 10 people died in a special unit for the senile in a home for the elderly in the central city of Lucerne, where the man had worked since December 2000. The suspect, whom authorities have described as well-educated, was arrested on June 28 after the home's authorities alerted police. He remains in custody.  Investigators widened their probe to include other homes and hospitals where the man had worked, poring over every death. Five bodies were exhumed as part of the investigation, which remains open.

They traced 12 mercy killings to one home for the elderly in the central Swiss canton of Obwalden and said the rest happened in other homes or hospitals. Nieminen said authorities still wanted more information about what motivated the man to end the lives of people in his care. He was also to undergo psychiatric tests. Euthanasia is tolerated in a number of Swiss cantons, provided strict rules are followed.

The Swiss Exit organization for voluntary euthanasia is also active in the canton of Lucerne, accompanying terminally ill people who have decided to end their days, Hess said. Active euthanasia is outlawed in Switzerland but the country does not regard it as a crime if a doctor assists in suicides by prescribing lethal drugs that patients close to a painful death take themselves to end their suffering.

Source: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010911/wl/crime_swiss_nurse_dc_1.html

See also: Thursday July 5 1015 AM ET Swiss Nurse Confesses Mercy Killing of Nine http//dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010705/wl/crime_swiss_dc_1.html

Friday August 31 10:27 AM ET

bulletRight-To-Die Couple Get OK for Legal Challenge

LONDON (Reuters) - A terminally ill woman succeeded on Friday in the latest round of a legal battle in which she is seeking clearance for her husband to help her to die with dignity. A High Court judge in London ruled that Diane Pretty, 42, and her husband Brian, 45, have an arguable challenge to the stance of the director of public prosecutions, who has refused to offer immunity from prosecution to Mr. Pretty if he helps his wife to end her life.

If the challenge--expected to take place in the next 2 weeks--succeeds, it could shake the foundations of the longstanding legal block on euthanasia in Britain.

Mrs. Pretty, who has motor neurone disease, was in court to hear the decision. She burst into tears as the judge, Stephen Silber, announced: ``I have come to the conclusion that the claimant does reach the threshold necessary to enable me to grant permission for this challenge to go ahead.''

Brian Pretty had sought the go-ahead to assist her to die with dignity rather than allow the disease to run its course. They want him to be safe from prosecution if he helps his wife of 25 years to die. So far the authorities have refused to give him such an assurance.

The couple, from Luton in southern England, argue that provisions in the Human Rights Act protecting privacy of family life without interference from public authorities and the right to freedom from inhumane or degrading treatment give legal backing to their case. Motor neurone disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/Lou Gehrig's disease (news - web sites), is incurable and causes progressive deterioration of the nerves that control the muscles.

Source: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010831/hl/righttodie_1.html

Sunday September 2 11:05 AM ET

bulletHeart Transplant Pioneer Barnard Dies Aged 78

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (Reuters) - Christiaan Barnard, who died in Cyprus Sunday aged 78, rocketed to world fame in December 1967 when he performed the first human heart transplant. A consultant and author of fiction and non-fiction after arthritis forced his retirement from surgery in 1983, he went on to live a life with all the ingredients of a best-selling novel. He had performed about 75 transplants by the time he retired.

But the path was not easy. The handsome surgeon had to overcome the world medical fraternity's concern about a high fatality rate -- his first transplant patient lived for only 18 days -- and claims that his work had been premature. Too little was known about the body's rejection of transplanted tissue, they said, and the publicity aroused false hopes among heart sufferers around the globe.

Barnard replied only that the operations were justified if they lengthened people's lives. Two of his first four patients survived for more than a year, and his fifth and sixth patients survived for nearly 13 and 24 years, respectively. In a 1987 interview he said: ``I was mentally abused for doing this. People asked me why it was done in South Africa. I think the operation was more heavily criticized for being done in South Africa than for anything else. ``We had nothing to hide. We obeyed the civil, criminal and ethical laws. I was criticized because of jealousy and lack of understanding. There was a political response.''


Always in the public eye, he enjoyed a playboy existence as a result of his new-found fame, traveling widely and enjoying international honors -- along with the criticism. He had an audience with the Pope in Rome, and appeared in society pages escorting film stars Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida. Christiaan Neethling Barnard was born on Oct. 8, 1922, at Beaufort West, about 300 miles from Cape Town. He was one of four sons in a missionary family, his father a preacher and his mother a church organist.

Though his family was not wealthy, Barnard won a scholarship to study medicine. After working as an intern at the Groote Schuur teaching hospital at Cape Town University, he went to the United States to study surgery at the University of Minnesota medical school. Back in Cape Town, he became Associate Professor of Surgery and Director of Surgical Research at Cape Town University, and specialized in open-heart surgery to replace diseased valves. In 1960, he went to Moscow to meet the Soviet doctors who had transplanted dogs' hearts and even heads.

His first heart transplant, performed at Groote Schuur hospital on December 3, 1967, gave only 18 extra days of life to Louis Washkansky, a 56-year-old chronic heart sufferer.


The second transplant in January 1968 had more success. Dentist Philip Blaiberg, 60, was the first heart transplant patient to leave hospital and lead an active life, before dying in August 1969 of chronic rejection. Surgeons in more than a dozen countries quickly followed his lead, although only 27 patients survived four years later after 178 recorded heart transplants.

``I've got to do what I want to do now... Because I don't know when I'll be completely stopped from doing surgery as a result of arthritis,'' Barnard said after performing the first two operations. In the 1970s, Barnard pioneered the ``piggyback'' operation in which a donor heart is stitched into the patient's body as a booster for an ailing heart. In two operations, he connected chimpanzee hearts to the human hearts but neither patient survived long and he later abandoned the technique.

He was nominated for the 1968 Nobel medicine prize but did not win it, and he turned down a request by the South African opposition United Party that he stand for parliament. ``I love my country, but it is my personal opinion that there is no future for South Africa, for you or for me or for our children unless we adopt a progressive outlook,'' he said. Later he said that extreme right-wing policies were as big a danger to South Africa's white civilization as communism and said he would no longer attend racially segregated functions.


In 1979 he was accused by Dr. Eschel Rhoodie, then government Information Secretary, of involvement in a South African government ``slush fund'' scandal, concerning the misuse of government money, but he denied the allegations. His autobiography ``Christiaan Barnard -- One Life,'' was published in 1970. The same year, his first wife Louwtjie sued for divorce on grounds of desertion, claiming that he could no longer combine the life of a celebrity with that of a father.

His second book, ``Heart Attack,'' appeared almost at the same time as his former wife's story, ``Heart Break.'' On St. Valentine's Day (news - web sites) 1970, he married 19-year-old Johannesburg socialite Barbara Zoellner. They were divorced 12 years later, and in January 1988 he married Karin Setzkorn, 40 years his junior. Barnard's 1985 book ``Good Life, Good Death: A Doctor's Case for Euthanasia and Suicide,'' marked a change in his medical attitudes as he defended a patient's right to take his own life.

``I strongly advocate active Euthanasia,'' he said. ``When carried out with the consent of the family and the patient. But when he or she is not in a state to decide, the doctors should do so.'' ``I hope one day that when I become ill, there will be a doctor who will practice active Euthanasia on me.''  Barnard's eldest son, Andre, was found dead in 1984 a bath in his house with an empty hypodermic beside him.

After his retirement from surgery, Barnard advised on the development of a successful new heart transplantation program in Oklahoma City in the United States. He also was criticized in 1986 for selling his name to promote anti-aging skin creams claimed by their makers to be important scientific breakthroughs but dismissed by critics as ineffective. He returned to live in South Africa in 1988 but traveled frequently to Crete and other Mediterranean islands, trips which the transplant pioneer in turn said in an interview this year felt good for his heart.

Source: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010902/sc/health_barnard_death_1.html

Friday June 29 10:07 AM ET

bulletScientist Says Mind Continues After Brain Dies By Sarah Tippit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A British scientist studying heart attack patients says he is finding evidence that suggests that consciousness may continue after the brain has stopped functioning and a patient is clinically dead. The research, presented to scientists last week at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), resurrects the debate over whether there is life after death and whether there is such a thing as the human soul.``The studies are very significant in that we have a group of people with no brain function ... who have well-structured, lucid thought processes with reasoning and memory formation at a time when their brains are shown not to function,'' Sam Parnia, one of two doctors from Southampton General Hospital in England who have been studying so-called near-death experiences (NDEs), told Reuters in an interview.``We need to do much larger-scale studies, but the possibility is certainly there'' to suggest that consciousness, or the soul, keeps thinking and reasoning even if a person's heart has stopped, he is not breathing and his brain activity is nil, Parnia said.

He said he and colleagues conducted an initial yearlong study, the results of which appeared in the February issue of the journal Resuscitation. The study was so promising the doctors formed a foundation to fund further research and continue collecting data.

During the initial study, Parnia said, 63 heart attack patients who were deemed clinically dead but were later revived were interviewed within a week of their experiences. Of those, 56 said they had no recollection of the time they were unconscious and seven reported having memories. Of those, four were labeled NDEs in that they reported lucid memories of thinking, reasoning, moving about and communicating with others after doctors determined their brains were not functioning.


Among other things, the patients reported remembering feelings of peace, joy and harmony. For some, time sped up, senses heightened and they lost awareness of their bodies.The patients also reported seeing a bright light, entering another realm and communicating with dead relatives. One, who called himself a lapsed Catholic and Pagan, reported a close encounter with a mystical being.

Near-death experiences have been reported for centuries but in Parnia's study none of the patients were found to have received low oxygen levels, which some skeptics believe may contribute to the phenomenon.When the brain is deprived of oxygen people become totally confused, thrash around and usually have no memories at all, Parnia said. ``Here you have a severe insult to the brain but perfect memory.''

Skeptics have also suggested that patients' memories occurred in the moments they were leaving or returning to consciousness. But Parnia said when a brain is traumatized by a seizure or car wreck a patient generally does not remember moments just before or after losing consciousness. Rather, there is usually a memory lapse of hours or days. ''Talk to them. They'll tell you something like: 'I just remember seeing the car and the next thing I knew I was in the hospital,''' he said.``With cardiac arrest, the insult to the brain is so severe it stops the brain completely. Therefore, I would expect profound memory loss before and after the incident,'' he added.Since the initial experiment, Parnia and his colleagues have found more than 3,500 people with lucid memories that apparently occurred at times they were thought to be clinically dead. Many of the patients, he said, were reluctant to share their experiences fearing they would be thought crazy.


One patient was 2-1/2 years old when he had a seizure and his heart stopped. His parents contacted Parnia after the boy ''drew a picture of himself as if out of his body looking down at himself. It was drawn like there was a balloon stuck to him. When they asked what the balloon was he said, 'When you die you see a bright light and you are connected to a cord.' He wasn't even 3 when had the experience,'' Parnia said.``What his parents noticed was that after he had been discharged from hospital, six months after the incident, he kept drawing the same scene.'' The brain function these patients were found to have while unconscious is commonly believed to be incapable of sustaining lucid thought processes or allowing lasting memories to form, Parnia said -- pointing to the fact that nobody fully grasps how the brain generates thoughts.

The brain itself is made up of cells, like all the body's organs, and is not really capable of producing the subjective phenomenon of thought that people have, he said. He speculated that human consciousness may work independently of the brain, using the gray matter as a mechanism to manifest the thoughts, just as a television set translates waves in the air into picture and sound.

``When you damage the brain or lose some of the aspects of mind or personality, that doesn't necessarily mean the mind is being produced by the brain. All it shows is that the apparatus is damaged,'' Parnia said, adding that further research might reveal the existence of a soul.``When these people are having experiences they say, 'I had this intense pain in my chest and suddenly I was drifting in the corner of my room and I was so happy, so comfortable. I looked down and realized I was seeing my body and doctors all around me trying to save me and I didn't want to go back.

``The point is they are describing seeing this thing in the room, which is their body. Nobody ever says, 'I had this pain and the next thing I knew my soul left me.''


Friday June 29 524 PM ET

bulletU.K. Organ Scandal Doctor Pleads Guilty in Canada

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) - A Dutch doctor at the center of a British scandal over the improper harvesting of human organs pleaded guilty in Canada on Friday to committing an indignity to human remains after a child's body parts were found in a cardboard box among his stored belongings.

The British government launched an inquiry two years ago into pathologist Dick van Velzen after it emerged that organs had been removed from more than 800 dead children at a British hospital, without their parents' agreement. Van Velzen, is currently resident of The Hague (news - web sites), but lived in Canada until 1998 in the eastern port city of Halifax, after he left the British hospital in 1995. A Canada-wide warrant was issued for his arrest following the discovery of the child's remains last September.

Van Velzen was given a conditional discharge on Friday and will be on probation for the next 12 months. He will also have to make a C$2,000 ($1,320) donation to Dalhousie University's Medical School in Halifax, where he used to work.

He had faced charges of committing a desecration to a human body and could have gone to jail for up to five years. ``We feel that the sentence is appropriate for this case,'' said Chris Hansen, a spokeswoman with Nova Scotia's public prosecution office. ``Mr. van Velzen has co-operated during the investigation.'' Hansen also stressed that the Canadian case was separate from the British case. ``These are two different affairs. It will not affect the British case,'' Hansen said, adding that the human remains discovered in Canada were sent by parents of an eight-year-old girl. The family was looking for a medical opinion in a lawsuit they had initiated and did not expect the remains returned.

Police in Nova Scotia issued the arrest warrant for van Velzen last September after a medical examination showed that several organs found in a cardboard box at a warehouse belonged to a human child. The remains were among a total of 13 boxes containing plastic bags of internal organs, mostly from pigs. Formerly a senior pathologist at Alder Hey children's hospital in Liverpool, England, van Velzen was at the center of an organ-harvesting scandal that rocked Britain with its graphic and disturbing account of practices at the hospital.

Britain's General Medical Council ruled he should not be allowed to work in Britain again after it was discovered this year that, between 1988 and 1995, pathologists had removed and stored children's hearts, heads, brain parts and eyes, as well as more than 15,000 stillborn babies or fetuses. Van Velzen was accused of having lied to parents and of stealing or falsifying medical records to cover up his activities at the hospital.

Source: http//dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010629/ts/crime_canada_britain_organs_dc_1.html