Bad Medicine

April 3rd, 2008 by Kathy McManus

If your doctor was a convicted killer, would you trust him with your life?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

If your doctor was a convicted killer, would you trust him with your life?

Karl Svensson’s future as a doctor seemed certain when he was accepted to medical school at Sweden’s prestigious Karolinska Institute.

Famed for choosing the annual winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine, Karolinska hand-picked its medical students, selecting an elite group best suited for grappling with the ethics of life-or-death decisions and leading lives devoted to saving others.

But four months into Svensson’s studies, the 31 year-old’s future became unhinged by his past would-be doctor Karl Svensson had killed a man.

Karolinska officials received two anonymous letters informing them that Svensson had been convicted of murder seven years earlier, shooting to death a trade union worker, in part because Svensson disagreed with the man’s politics. At the time, Svensson had been under surveillance by Sweden’s equivalent of the FBI for neo-Nazi involvement. Police classified the killing as a hate crime.

Svensson maintained his innocence, but was sentenced to 11 years in prison. After six and a half years, he was paroled, and soon accepted to med school.

The medical school could not expel Svensson because there was no government policy allowing for such action under the circumstances. Only when officials discovered that Svensson had falsified his high school transcripts by changing his last name from Hellekant—his legal name under which he was convicted—could they expel him. They did.

But students and officials remained divided. Some argued that a killer should never be allowed to practice medicine. Others said that since Svensson had served his time, he should be permitted to stay in school and become a doctor.

Tell us what you think: Should a man who was responsible for murder be allowed to be a doctor with the responsibility for saving people's lives? Is it possible for a person to make a responsible contribution to society after making the most heinous one?