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French doctors stand trial for covering up deadly radiation overdoses

By Kim Willsher, The Guardian
Monday, September 24, 2012 9:13 EDT
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Two hospital doctors and a radiologist accused of giving hundreds of cancer patients potentially deadly radiation overdoses and then destroying evidence to cover up the mistake, have gone on trial for manslaughter.

At least seven people died out of a group of 24 patients who received doses of radiation up to 20% more than they should have been given at the Jean Monnet hospital in Epinal, in the Vosges in north-east France between 2001 and 2006.

Another 424 patients received doses of between 8-10% higher than a safe level, due to a “calibration error”. Most of the victims, who suffered severe internal burns from the radiation, were being treated for prostate cancer.

Doctors Jean-François Sztermer, 64, and Michel Aubertel, 62, as well as radiologist Joshua Anah, 54, are accused of involuntary homicide, not helping a person in danger and destroying evidence. Three other health officials from the hospital, the social security and the local health authority, are also in the dock accused of not assisting someone in danger.

Dozens of patients are expected to give evidence in the case, which began on Monday and is due to last until the end of October. Those too sick to attend the court hearing will give evidence by video link.

The errors were blamed on the radiation machines being upgraded with new ones and doses of radiation being miscalculated.

At the correctional court in Paris the victims, most of whom have already received financial compensation, hope their suffering will be finally recognised.

Gérard Welzer, lawyer for some of the patients, told Le Parisien: “It’s a sign that you cannot destroy people’s lives without explanation, and so that it doesn’t happen again.” He said the case had a certain “yobbish” aspect to it: “There wasn’t just the error, there was the desire to hide it.”

Defending one of the accused, lawyer Jean Reinhart said his client wanted to “help the court understand what happened”.

© Guardian News and Media 2012

 
 
 
 
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