In 1978 at the University of Cambridge, Department of Physiology Professor Keith Simpson was delivering a lecture to aspirant medical students. Some were alarmed when he opened with the words.
‘Doctors are in a particularly good position to commit murder and escape detection. Their patients, sometimes their own fading wives, more often merely aging nuisances, are in their sole hands. ‘Dangerous drugs’ and powerful poisons lie in their professional bags or in their surgery. No one is watching or questioning them, and a change in symptoms, a sudden grave ‘turn for the worst’ or even death is for them alone to interpret.’
Doctors are the ones who authorize the removal of the dead patient and they are the ones who write the death certificates. If, they do decide to take the law into their own hands, it will only emerge by coincidence, whispers, rumours or negligence in covering their tracks.
It is true to say that medical murders are few and far between taking into account how many doctors are registered. That of course is, either credit to their moral fibre or, the fact they can and are capable of concealing their crimes.
Clinicide means the death of numerous patients during treatment by a doctor but it also means the murder of just one patient.
In the early nineteenth century, medical killers were in fact common murderers who were by chance happened to be doctors, and the tendency was only to kill patients when they were involved.
Dr. Edme Castaing 1796–1823
The first physician ever convicted of using the drug morphine as a murder weapon was in fact Dr. Edme Castaing from Paris. He was only 27 years of age and in dire need of money, to maintain a hedonistic lifestyle. He was treating a patient, wealthy of course, dying of tuberculosis called ‘Hippolyte Ballet.’
The patient had written a Will excluding his brother Auguste who, in response and indignation, arranged with the young doctor to accelerate his brother’s death and destroy the Will, which would have made him a rich man. At an autopsy it was decided that Hippolyte however, had died from poison.
The young doctor Castaing decided to kill the brother too, but not before brother Auguste agreed to make a Will in favour of the doctor. Incredible that Castaing first checked with a lawyer that the Will was valid and then took Auguste for a trip to the country whereby he poisoned him by adding morphine in the wine.
Auguste was seen by two doctors whilst at a local Inn but died shortly afterwards.
An autopsy was ordered. It was determined he died by morphine poisoning and lo and behold Castaing was charged with the murders of both the Ballet brothers.
Dr William Palmer 6 August 1824 – 14 June 1856)
In England Dr William Palmer acted in a facsimile manner. His method however, was blatant, and open, and took out insurance policies on individuals he knew; many of whom did not even know of the policies, and then simply terminated their lives with a collection of poisons and collected the payouts.
Dr Palmer was a man addicted to gambling and held a questionable medical degree from St Bartholomew Hospital, paid for by his mother. He was also an incredible womanizer, despite outwardly portraying an image of a devoted loving husband.
He fathered more than ten illegitimate children whom he later simply murdered, by poison. To cover his tracks he used an aged Dr Bamford, who was quite happy to write out medical certificates for a small gratuity.
As Dr Palmers debts mounted to astronomical heights, he poisoned his father in law and then his own wife, who were both heavily insured by him. But the payouts did not last long and he soon turned on his brother Walter. But before he could collect on the insurance payout on his brother, he was arrested for the murder of a racehorse owner John Parsons Cook.
Palmer’s diary recording the death of Cook
Upon the exhumation of his wife and father in law, the drug antimony was found and Dr Palmer was duly convicted of murder.
Lord Campbell sentencing Palmer to death said:
‘It is seldom that such familiarity with the means of death should be shown without long experience.’
The crimes of Dr William Palmer led to an Act of Parliament making it illegal to take out an insurance policy on someone’s life when their death, would cause the insurer financial loss.
What though of killing people for the act of kindness, or mercy?
It was Maxim Gorkey that wrote:
‘We kill everybody, my dear. Some with bullets, some with words, and everybody with our deeds we drive people into their graves, and neither see it nor feel it.’
Charles Darwin had his own view of physicians, not quite so conservative. In the ‘descent of man’ he wrote:
‘Our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. Thus, the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.’
What is mercy killing? Euthanasia is the act of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals, in a relatively pointless way, for reasons of mercy.
Euthanasia has a long history but only because a real issue with the development of drugs administered by syringe. For both, patient and doctor when in pain a swift way out was ready and available.
Dr Jack Kevorkian
Dr Jack Kevorkian was born in 1928. His parents escaped the Turkish Genocide of the Americans in World War I, by going to the United States. Jack graduated from the University of Michigan in 1952 and specialized in pathology. During his time as a medical student he studied dying hospital patients.
He served over a year as a US army medical officer in Korea and returned to pathology. He never did any clinical work with patients, after leaving the army.
In 1958 he met death row convicts at Ohio State Penitentiary, to discuss the possibilities of performing medical experiments of their execution. He planned to anaesthetize condemned prisoners, perform experiments and then finally inject them with lethal drugs. This was just a few years after the Nuremberg trials had heard of experiments from Dr Josef Mengele.
Dr Josef Mengele
At Pontiac General hospital, Kevorkian decided to experiment with blood transfusions from corpses. The hospital authorities just let him ‘get on with it’ provided he did his job. During these experiments he came up with an idea of transfusing blood directly from dead soldiers to the injured. No way was this going to be allowed.
Kevorkian moved between Michigan and California and incredibly bored with medicine and not taken seriously even made a film of ‘Handels Messiah’ never to be released.
So, back he went in 1983 to consider his death row experiments’. Strangely, in a 1968 article in ‘Medicine and law’ Kevorkian heaved praise on Nazi doctors, for conducting medical experiments. He wrote the Nazis performed ‘merciless killing’ not ‘mercy killing.’ He felt a good death was not good enough and proposed euthanasia, with some rules and the necessary restrictions.
He even produced a business plan for ‘Obitoria’ centres to assist people in medically assisted suicide. His proposition was to now conduct experiments on living people to ‘penetrate the mystery of death.’ He wrote to over 1000 condemned criminal and asked the prison authorities to give consent.
It was yet another no go.
He then proposed the concept of ‘optional assisted suicide ‘for terminally ill people. The euthanasia clinics would be staffed by doctors who would legally terminate people who requested death.
He placed adverts for volunteers’ but received no responses. In 1989 David Rivlin was a 38 year old quadriplegic from Detroit publicly asked for help. Kevorkian designed the ‘Thanatron’ machine for $30. To avoid legal problems the patient would ‘pull the trigger.’ The thiopental would put the patient into a deep coma and after a minute the timer would send a lethal dose of potassium chloride through the line and death.
Rivlin died and Kevorkian was in business, producing the machines until 1992, when Michigan law made such illegal. Kevorkian was ultimately jailed in 1998 but not until he had assisted in the death of 130 people to die.
The irony of Dr Jack Kevorkian was, that he was not even a registered doctor and he did not care or paid attention to the patients history. It was subsequently discovered that 82 of the 130 he ‘helped’ to die were not even terminally ill. Most were just depressed or disabled. At least 5 had no illness whatsoever.
Marjorie Wantz, Sherry Miller; Esther Cohen; Rebecca Badger; Judith Cohen at autopsy detected no terminal disease. One was depressed because of her divorce. Another had bad bed sores which could have been treated.
In 1998 the quadriplegic Joseph Tushkowski underwent medical intuition after death, Kevorkian lifted up his sweater tied off the blood vessels and ripped out the kidneys.
At a news conference he offered the kidneys ‘first come, first served.’
He was now making worldwide headlines and a reminiscence of the Nazis haunted him. He did all he could to provoke the government into charging him and putting him on trial.
He got his way and was charged with the second- degree murder of Thomas York who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis. A video of Yank’s suicide was shown on ’60 minutes’ which made sure the authorities would now stop at nothing to convict him.
The trial was a total farce with Kevorkian acting as his own attorney but he was totally useless. In 1999 he was convicted and sentence to 10 – 25 years in prison. As an act of compassion he was released on parole in July 2007 as he was suffering from hepatitis C with the condition, he could have no contact with the press.
As controversial as Kevorkian was nothing could, however, equal the clinicide of an English King by his physician.
The case is that of King George V at the hands of his own physician, Lord Dawson of Penn.
It would not be a case of mercy killing or euthanasia, but one of premeditated murder.
Lord Dawson of Penn was the royal physician. He was the most admired and respected Doctor of his time. He was the President of the Royal College of Physicians, twice elected to the British Medical Association and honoured by the royal family with a viscountcy.
The way he able treated King George V for a respiratory illness in 1928 granted him celebrity status.
The previous four Kings of England had all died of smoking diseases. King George V would be no exception. At 71 years of age he had been in failing health for some months, if not years.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, and a few selected others, told of the Kings pain free and tranquil days sitting in an armchair in front of a log fire, with a blanket over his legs and gradually getting weaker.
Documents kept by the then security services – the same whom the King had engaged to spy on his son Edward VIII and his affair with Wallis Simpson – confirm that four days before the death of King George V both Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales – who would become King Edward VIII and subsequently, the Duke of Windsor – told Dawson that they did not want the Kings life prolonged if his illness was fatal.
The King was not ever consulted about this.
On the 20 January 1936, the morning of his last day of life, the King attended a ten minute meeting with his Privy Councilors.
At 09.25am Dawson issued the medical bulletin that would become a text book classic but wholly false:
‘The Kings life is moving peacefully towards its close.’
The documents, now with the Secret Intelligence services, show that whilst the Archbishop of Canterbury prayed at the bedside of the King, who is said to have been semi-comatose but actually sitting up in bed, Dawson, who refused to consult the other doctors involved in the Kings care, prepared a syringe with three quarters of a grain morphine and one grain of cocaine.
The Kings nurse, Sister Catherine Black, made a statement after the King’s death and that statement is contained within the file on King George V by Secret Intelligence Service. In it she said:
‘I refused absolutely to give the lethal injection. I know it was lethal and I would not do it.’
Her autobiography in 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, the chapter describing what was the murder of King George V was re written. It was not time to raise the question of the murder of a King.
In 1995, an officer from the Secret Intelligence Services leaked the notes made by Dawson which were never meant for publication. But 50 years after Dawson’s death there was no World War on the horizon and no one cared.
Dawson’s diary note described his actions:
‘At about 11 o’clock it was evident that the last stage might endure for many hours, unknown to the patient but little comporting with the dignity and serenity which he so richly merited and which demanded a brief final scene. Hours of waiting, just for the mechanical end, when all that is really life has parted only exhausts the onlookers and kept them so strained that they cannot avail themselves to the solace of thought, communion or prayer. I therefore decided to determine the end and injected (myself) morphia gr. ¾ and shortly afterwards cocaine gr.1 into the distended jugular vein.’
Dawson then telephoned his wife in London to:
‘Advise The Times to hold back publication.’
The King died within an hour after the fatal injections.
The next morning, ‘The Times’ headlines read: ’A Peaceful Ending At Midnight.’
It was reported that the Kings last words were:
’How is the Empire?’
But the notes Dawson made, and leaked in 1995, report a different and wholly appropriate response.
Injected with morphine in the jugular vein the King said:
‘God damn you!’
Dawson worked to ensure the announcement of the Kings death would appear first, in the morning edition of ‘The Times’ rather than, as he reported in his diary.
‘The less appropriate evening journals.’
At the same time, by killing the King he was back in London to attend his busy clinic.
Ten months later in a House of Lords debate Dawson described euthanasia as
‘Mission of mercy. If we cannot cure for heaven’s sake let’s do our best to lighten the pain.’
It was well known that the King and his son Edward VIII did not see eye to eye on nearly all issues but mostly over Wallis Simpson. Queen Mary knew that her husband would die sooner rather later.
When Dawson was summoned by Queen Mary on 16 January 1936, it was the Prince of Wales who gave the order to Dawson not to prolong his father’s life. Queen Mary appeased her son on the understanding he would not continue his relationship with Wallis Simpson.
At the end a King was murdered and the Prince of Wales reneged on his word to his mother which led to his own downfall and ostracizing from the Royal family until the day he died.
NB: Some images retrieved from Google, will remove at owner’s request.
Originally published on previous site 22 May 2014