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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 00:50 GMT 01:50 UK
Thai 'murder for kidney' trial starts
Surgery
It is thought to be Thailand's first case of medical murder to reach court
A Thai criminal court has begun hearing the cases of three doctors and a hospital manager accused of conspiring to murder patients for their kidneys.

It is alleged the doctors - who worked at Bangkok's private Vajiraprakarn hospital - removed the organs when the patients were in a coma, but not officially declared brain dead.

Prosecutor Charathana Phatanapanich told the court on Thursday the hospital manager falsified documents to say the victims' relatives voluntarily donated their kidneys.

All the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges in what is believed to be the first case of medical murder to go to court in Thailand.

Organ donation is permitted in Thailand, with the consent of the donor's family and the recipient's - but no money is allowed to change hands.

Strange scars

The two cases allegedly occurred in February and November of 1997.

The trial was the result of a lengthy investigation after suspicious relatives found surgical scars on the bodies of their kin, who died after being in a coma for some time.

Lawyers said it could take over a year to hear testimony from about 120 witnesses in the case, which has taken prosecutors two years to put together.

If found guilty of murder, the doctors could face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, while the document forgery charges carry up to five years in jail.

The doctors' licences were revoked in 2000 by the Thai Medical Council after it found them guilty of breaching medical ethics.

See also:

31 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Surgeons face kidney theft charges
11 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Thai doctors guilty in kidney scandal
27 Jul 99 | Asia-Pacific
Thai hospital denies organ trade
28 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Gaining a kidney from an execution
28 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Global demand fuels human organ trade
03 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Kidney sale on Web halted
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