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Uruguay nurses charged with murder

19th March 2012

Two male nurses in Uruguay have been charged with murder following the deaths of 16 patients in so-called "mercy killings."

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The suspects are currently being held pending trial for the homicides of the patients while they were under care at a privately owned Neurological Intensive Care Center, and at the intermediate care unit in a public hospital.

A woman reported to be the girlfriend of one of the men has been charged with hindering the police investigation by covering up information.

Investigating judge Rolando Vomero has previously said that one of the men has admitted to killing 11 people, while the other had admitted to killing five. However, it is unclear whether more deaths are under investigation.

In a civil law system, a judge oversees a prolonged investigation in criminal cases, carrying out extensive interviews with suspects before a case proceeds to trial.

Judge Vomero said that the men had described a number of methods to administer "euthanasia" to patients under their care.

In one case, the nurse gave the patients morphine directly into their bloodstream, while another patient had air pumped into their blood, resulting in deaths in both cases that took "just a few minutes."

While the men have said they were motivated by a desire to end the suffering of their patients, they have also admitted they knew some of the patients they killed had not been diagnosed as terminally ill.

The case has sparked a huge reaction in Catholic Uruguay, with interior minister Eduardo Bonomi telling reporters that the probe into the patients' deaths was launched in January following complaints of criminal activity from one of the medical facilities.

Minister Eduardo Bonomi said investigators gleaned specific evidence from a death that occurred soon after the tip-off.

The authorities have yet to rule out the possibility that more people than the two nurses currently being held could have been involved in the killings.

Ines Mazziotti, who is defending one of the men, said the killings were carried out as a form of "mercy."

She said one of the suspects had been under extreme strain after working for 20 years in an intensive care unit with the stress of constantly trying to save seriously ill people from death.

She said he "could not take it any more."

Although the nurses are accused of similar crimes, they reportedly hardly knew one another and did not appear to have been working together.

Local daily newspaper El Pais said in one report that as many as 50 deaths could be involved.

Uruguay's health ministry has also said it is deeply concerned and working to help expedite the investigation.

A separate body, the Patient Safety Commission, will also help to collect information and help with criminal and judicial investigations.


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