Bioethics News

Angels of mercy

It appears that Canada has experienced a visitation from an “angel of mercy”, a media euphemism for a medical serial killer. Arrested this week, Elizabeth Wettlaufer allegedly killed eight patients in Ontario nursing homes since 2007. The Canadian media is describing her as one of Canada’s worst serial killers.

She faces stiff competition in other countries. In Italy, Daniela Poggiali, a nurse, was sentenced earlier this year over 13 deaths. In the US, Charles Cullen, a nurse. was sentenced in 2006 over the deaths of about 40 patients. In Germany Stephan Letter killed at least 29 patients in 2003 and 2004. And then there is Dr Harold Shipman, the quiet English doctor who killed 250 patients.

These horrors never seem to be mentioned when the legalization of euthanasia is being debated, but they should be. The existence of these mad “angels of mercy” demonstrates that some healthcare professionals feel compelled to kill the defenceless people entrusted to their care.

Legalisation creates a class of people who do the same thing but without the secrecy. In Belgium and the Netherlands, the bulk of the euthanasia business seems to be carried out by a handful of doctors. Some of them have killed scores of patients. What does that do to them? Why do they volunteer? Will there be more “angels of mercy” in jurisdictions where euthanasia is legal? These are all questions that need to be asked and answered. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.