Doctors and nurses are the most trusted professionals, according to a UK poll earlier this year, just ahead of hairdressers and teachers, but absolutely thrashing politicians, real estate agents and journalists. This may account for the confidence with which supporters of euthanasia and assisted suicide entrust them with the lives of the elderly and terminally ill.
However, this week’s news from Italy is a reminder that not all medicos are worthy of that trust. An anaesthetist and his nurse lover have been arrested near Milan over the deaths of at least five patients and possibly dozens more between 2011 and 2014. The deaths took place at Saronno Hospital, about 30 km north-west of Milan.
Leonardo Cazzaniga, 60, and nurse Laura Taroni, 40, are also suspected of having killed his father and her husband and her mother. It appears that they tricked Ms Taroni’s spouse into believing that he had diabetes and then poisoned him with some hospital drugs.
Police wiretapped the couple’s phones and presented excerpts from disturbing conversations. At one stage Taroni told Cazzaniga she could kill her son and her eight-year-old daughter. "Every now and again I have this urge to kill someone - I need to," Taroni allegedly told Cazzaniga. According to one of Cazzaniga's colleagues, he frequently referred to himself as an "angel of death". It appears that he also used cocaine.
Also relevant to potential euthanasia laws, it appears that colleagues and hospital administrators may have turned a blind eye to the deaths. One doctor allegedly blackmailed the hospital into hiring her in exchange for keeping quiet about the murders. She may have also helped Ms Taroni falsify her husband’s tests for diabetes.
The police are not treating the deaths as euthanasia, or mercy killing, but as homicides.