02 November 2010

The demon doctors

Doctors are the good guys. We know this to be true. But still, there have been some very, very bad apples…


The shocking allegations about an anaesthetist who allegedly sexually assaulted women when they were unconscious, has focused attention again on the medical profession, and the abuse that’s possible when patients are vulnerable.

A reported 29 charges have been brought against the doctor concerned, Dr George Doodnaught, since March this year.

While speculation swirls around how Doodnaught managed to secure time alone with victims while they were unconscious during surgical procedures, the proper question to ask is not “how” but “why”. Why would any doctor inflict harm, when it is their sworn duty to reduce it?

The Hippocratic Oath

 "...I will prescribe regimen for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone. To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug, nor give advice which may cause his death..." – extract from the Hippocratic Oath

Allegations and confirmed incidents of abuse on the part of medical practitioners are not unfamiliar. A minority of doctors and nurses across the globe and throughout history have committed heinous crimes against people that involve murder, poisonings, assault, rape and more.

In an interview with Health24 writer Ilse Pauw, forensic psychiatrist Professor Tuviah Zabow said most of the people we would call “serial killers” have an anti-social personality disorder.

 “There is always a sexual element to these crimes – the killer derives sexual gratification from raping and/or mutilating his victims,” says Zabow. These killers can be either disorganised or organised, and the demon doctors fall into the latter group – they are not mentally ill, they function very well, and they carefully plan and calculate their actions and take care to cover their tracks, making them hard to catch.

“In order to draw up a profile of a serial killer, one needs to look at the types of murders the person commits,” Zabow told Health24. “This will give you a clue as to the underlying psychodynamic reasoning behind the killings is. For example, a person who kills couples probably has difficulties in relationships. A person who kills children is likely to be a paedophile.”

The murder excites the killer tremendously. He needs to kill again to feel the same excitement. When the excitement wears off, he may start taking greater risks and taunting the police. By increasing the risk, he increases the level of excitement, according to Zabow.

Harold Shipman

Harold Shipman will go down in history as the world’s most prolific doctor-turned-serial-killer. He is believed to have murdered well over 200 people, mostly senior women.

He had used lethal doses of diamorphine to kill his victims. His last victim was Kathleen Grundy, and it was later found that as well as writing her death certificate, he had forged her will. According to the will, she had left Shipman 386,000 pounds (about R4,2 million).

It would seem that simple greed was Shipman’s reason for Grundy's murder, but he was not a beneficiary in all the wills of his other victims. His motive in these cases remains a mystery.

On 31 January 2000, Shipman was found guilty of 15 murders and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Just under four years later, he hanged himself in his cell in Wakefield prison.

Michael Swango

Dr Joseph Michael Swango is another serial killer physician. Even as an intern in the mid-1980s, he was raising suspicion among nurses about his practices; and in the end he was thought to have been involved in as many as 60 poisonings.

Unlike Shipman, Swango’s victims were chosen randomly, and he targeted colleagues and patients alike. Arsenic and other poisons were his way of forcibly kicking other people’s buckets.

After a career punctuated by internal investigations, imprisonment for poisoning co-workers, and being fired, Swango forged documents to make himself employable again in the US. When he was busted, he fled the country and took up a post as a doctor in Zimbabwe where, again, he left a trail of bodies.

Swango was eventually arrested, convicted of four murders in mid-2000, and remains in prison in the US.

It must, however, be remembered that the overwhelming majority of medical personell would never harm their patients. Swango and Shipman were, unfortunately for their victims, exceptions to the rule.

(Kyle Boshoff, Health 24, October 2010)

Read more:

Toronto doctor accused of 29 rapes


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