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Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 16:52 UK

German doctor tried for 13 deaths

Mechthild Bach in the Hanover district court, Germany, 20 October 2009
Bach says her actions did not shorten the lives of her patients

A German doctor has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of 13 cancer patients who died from suspected overdoses of pain-killing drugs.

A tearful Mechthild Bach, 59, said her actions to lessen her patients' pain had not shortened their lives.

She said all the patients had been close to death, and that she had been helping them to live in dignity.

It is the second time she has stood trial; a first trial collapsed in 2008 when one of the judges fell ill.

Dr Bach has suggested the charges might have arisen because of mistakes in her paperwork, as she did not document certain consultations with the patients in question.

Morphine appropriate?

Prosecutors say Dr Bach, 59, on trial in Hanover, killed the patients between 2001 and 2003 with overdoses of morphine or the sedative diazepam.

Morphine treatment was not appropriate for most of the patients, said Regina Dietzel-Gropp, for the prosecution, adding that the doses were too high in the other cases.

She said the patients, aged between 52 and 96, were not all terminally ill.

But Dr Bach said morphine had been medically appropriate in each case, although she said she had paid more attention to her patients' condition than to the paperwork.

"In none of the 13 cases did I shorten the final phase of my patients' life with morphine," she said.

"I have been wrongly charged and resolutely reject all the accusations that have been made."

The trial is expected to last several months. If convicted, Dr Bach faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The case first came to light in 2003, after a health insurance investigation turned up suspiciously high usage of morphine at the hospital where Dr Bach worked in the Hanover suburb of Langenhagen.

She has since been struck off the medical register.

Dr Bach was originally charged with eight counts of manslaughter, but prosecutors increased the number of charges after the first trial was halted.



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