Heart doctor suspected of murder
The Charité is known beyond the borders of Germany as a respected address for medicine, research and teaching. Now a bad suspicion is becoming public: did a heart doctor murder two patients there?
They were seriously ill in the intensive care unit: Two patients at the renowned Charité in Berlin are said to have been killed by a heart doctor with an overdose of medication. The 55-year-old cardiology specialist was arrested on Monday – on strong suspicion of double murder in 2021 and 2022, according to prosecutors and the police. According to the public prosecutor, the man was released from the Charité in August 2022. According to its own statements, the clinic had received an anonymous tip at the time. That’s how the investigation got started.
The suspect was to be brought before an investigating judge at the Tiergarten district court to issue the arrest warrant on Monday, it said. According to the investigating authorities, the urgent suspicion of a crime only arose from a medical report. “Because previously it could not be ruled out that the high dosage of the sedative would still have been medically justifiable.” According to the expert’s assessment, this was not the case in at least two of the four deaths examined – which should therefore also have been recognizable for the accused. So-called sedatives are tranquilizers.
No evidence of requested euthanasia
It was initially unclear from what motives the accused should have acted and whether further deaths in the Charité must be investigated. The investigators have not yet assumed that the doctor could be asked for support by the seriously ill patient. “According to the current status of the investigation, there is no evidence that the patient would have asked for euthanasia,” said a spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office. He could not give any information on the age of the patients.
According to Charité, the anonymous tip was received on August 19, 2022 as part of a kind of whistleblower system with trusted lawyers. Clinic employees who notice any inconsistencies can turn to them confidentially. In this specific case, someone reported four cases of allegedly unlawful medical procedures resulting in death in the medical clinic with a focus on cardiology, angiology and intensive care medicine on the Virchow-Klinikum campus.
The communication system now used for whistleblowers was set up years ago as a consequence of a series of murders at the Charité in 2005 and 2006. At that time, a nurse administered drugs to terminally ill patients, which led to death due to the weak constitution of those affected. The woman was sentenced to life imprisonment – the Federal Court of Justice found her guilty of three counts of murder and two counts of manslaughter.
Charité: Anonymous tip taken very seriously
The trial had also revealed significant abuses within the clinic: Witnesses testified in court that the nurse had been under suspicion for some time before her arrest. The nursing staff kept the rumor to themselves before informing the ward management. With fatal consequences: The nurse killed three other patients during this time. The woman stated that she acted for the benefit of the patients. According to the verdict, however, neither those affected nor their relatives had asked for euthanasia.
With regard to the current case, the Charité emphasized that it took the anonymous tip very seriously and immediately released the suspected specialist. “All other necessary measures to protect potentially affected groups of people were initiated immediately”. The Charité is one of the largest university hospitals in Europe and one of the largest employers in Berlin. Group-wide, the clinic has more than 21,000 employees, more than 5,000 of whom are doctors and researchers.
The case can bring back memories of the patient killer Niels Högel, who became known as the “death nurse”: the Oldenburg district court sentenced him to life imprisonment in 2019 for murder in 85 cases. He worked as a nurse in intensive care in clinics in Oldenburg and Delmenhorst and, according to the regional court, killed a total of 85 patients there by administering drugs that were not medically indicated.