Skip to main content

Brazilian doctor killed 7 patients to free up hospital beds, police say

By Marilia Brocchetto, CNN
March 29, 2013 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A group of doctors allegedly altered oxygen levels for patients
  • Police: The doctors also administered lethal doses of medication
  • Seven other health care professionals have been charged in the case

(CNN) -- A Brazilian doctor appeared in court for allegedly killing seven patients to free up hospital beds in the southeast city of Curitiba.

Virginia Helena Soares de Souza recruited a group of doctors to help administer lethal doses of anesthetics, sedatives and painkillers, according to authorities.

In addition, the group allegedly altered oxygen levels for patients, leading to deaths by asphyxiation, police said.

Seven other health care professionals have been charged in the case.

Prosecutors allege de Souza pulled the plug on victims against the wishes of patients and their families, and in so doing broke the law. She did that to free up beds in the ICU and clear up the "clutter" the patients were causing, according to police.

De Souza was arrested in February, but was later released until trial. Her court appearance Wednesday is part of mandated monthly appearances to avoid going back to jail.

Investigators say between 2006 and 2013, de Souza ordered medical professionals working under her at an intensive care unit to alter medication and oxygen levels.

In an interview with CNN affiliate TV Globo, Mario Lobato, the doctor tasked by the health ministry to investigate the case, said the number of deaths could be much higher.

He said his team is analyzing medical charts of more than 1,700 patients and interviewing more doctors.

During the seven years the incidents occurred, in cases where de Souza did not prescribe the drugs herself, she ordered other doctors to change mechanical ventilation devices, according to authorities. She allowed them access to medical records to issue prescriptions in her name, police said.

De Souza has pleaded not guilty.

Her lawyer, Elias Mattar Assad, said she will prove that her orders in the ICU were backed and justified by medical literature. Lobato, however, said some of the patients were awake and conscious moments before the drugs were administered.

CNN affiliate TV Record reported that the investigation began a year ago. In telephone recordings made with the consent of the justice department, de Souza ordered other medical doctors and employees to shut down some ventilation devices.

Euthanasia is considered a crime in Brazil.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes: Evil is the strongest word we have to prepare ourselves to kill others.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
As protests over the shooting of an unarmed black teen calmed down, the question remains: Where's the police officer who pulled the trigger?
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 0922 GMT (1722 HKT)
CNN's Tim Lister: Getting rid of ISIS will be tougher than taking on al Qaeda.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 0042 GMT (0842 HKT)
American patients infected with Ebola are being released from the hospital. What now?
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1048 GMT (1848 HKT)
One of the first observers at the MH17 crash site in Ukraine describes the harrowing scene.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
Five survivors of acid attacks capture India's attention with a "ground breaking" photo shoot.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1219 GMT (2019 HKT)
In an exclusive CNN interview, Lance Armstrong admits to having a "f**k you" attitude.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 0036 GMT (0836 HKT)
The pain that Michael Brown's parents are going through is something Sybrina Fulton can relate to. She, too, lost a son in a controversial shooting.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid gestures during the UEFA Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Sevilla at Cardiff City Stadium on August 12, 2014 Cardiff, Wales.
"We are like one grain of sand against a whole beach," says Eibar fan Unai Eraso.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1022 GMT (1822 HKT)
From fierce protests in Ferguson, to an Ebola survivor discharged from a hospital in Atlanta, browse through the photos of the week.
ADVERTISEMENT