Brazilian intensive care specialist investigated over deaths of 300 patients

Michael Cook
6 Apr 2013
Reproduced with Permission

A Brazilian doctor is being investigated for the murders of more than 300 intensive care patients. Dr Virginia Soares de Souza, 56, and seven members of her medical team allegedly administered a muscle-relaxant drug which impaired patients' ability to breathe and then reduced their oxygen supply, causing them to die of asphyxiation.

The prosecutor told the media that Dr de Souza was originally suspected of killing seven terminally ill patients to free up beds. However, when police trawled through the records of the Evangelical Hospital in Curitiba in southern Brazil, they discovered that she could be implicated in another 300 deaths. They painted a picture of a doctor who felt "all powerful", to the point where she "had the power to decree the moment when a victim would die." Sometimes, it was alleged, she would telephone staff to tell them to kill another patient.

Three other doctors, three nurses and a physiotherapist have also been charged with murder.

The motive for the alleged killings, police say, was to free up beds for patients who had private health insurance or who could pay for treatment. She targeted patients who were staying for free under a national insurance scheme.

Dr de Souza's lawyer says that his client is innocent and that the police do not understand how intensive care works.

The president of the Brazilian Association of Intensive Care Medicine, José Mário Meira Teles, agreed. Failure to use everything possible to extend the life of a patient or the use of pain-relieving medicine which could also speed up death could be interpreted by police as homicidal, he told the Brazilian media.