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German Nurse Who Killed at Least 85 Patients Gets Life in Prison

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  • A German nurse who was nicknamed “Resuscitation Rambo” by his coworkers has now been handed a second life sentence for murdering 85 of his patients.
  • Niels Högel was accused of administering non-prescribed drugs to patients to send them into cardiac arrests in an attempt to show off his resuscitation skills.
  • Police say that he may have killed as many as 200, while one spokesperson for a group of the victims’ relatives puts the number as high as 300.

Resuscitation Rambo

A German nurse was handed a second life sentence on Thursday for the murder of 85 patients who were once under his care.

The former nurse, Niels Högel is now considered Germany’s deadliest post-war serial killer. The 42-year-old was employed at two clinics, one in Delmenhorst and another in Oldenburg. Prosecutors say that between 2000 and 2005, he had killed at least 100 patients between the ages of 34 and 96.

During his trial, Högel confessed to killing 43 patients, denied killing five, and said he could not remember details about the 52 others. He was later acquitted of 15 deaths due to lack of evidence.

Högel was accused of giving victims various non-prescribed drugs to orchestrate cardiac arrests, knowing full well that doing so could cause the patients to die. Police say he did so in an attempt to show off his resuscitation skills. A former colleague even told the German paper, Bild, that he “always pushed everyone else aside” when resuscitating patients. At work, he was even nicknamed “Resuscitation Rambo.”

During trial hearings, Högel said he felt a sense of euphoria when he was able to bring a patient back to life and felt devastated when he failed, CNN reported. He was eventually caught in the act by a colleague in 2005.

Högel has already been convicted in previous cases for homicide and attempted homicide. He was given his first life sentence in 2015 and those deaths led authorities to investigate hundreds the cases of other patients that he worked with.

During their investigation, authorities reviewed more than 500 patient files and hospital records, exhumed 134 bodies from 67 cemeteries, and conducted dozens of interviews.

Police believe that Högel may be responsible for as many as 200 murders, but can’t be certain because of gaps in his memory and because many patients were cremated before autopsies could be performed. One spokesperson for a group of the victims’ relatives says that number could be as high as 300.

Sentencing

The judge in his case, Judge Sebastian Bührmann, said Högel’s actions were “incomprehensible.”

“The human mind struggles to take in the sheer scale of these crimes,” he added. “I felt like an accountant of death.” Bührmann also cited a psychologist’s assessment that the former nurse was a narcissist who liked to cast himself as a hero.

Prosecutors had sought to charge Högel with 97 murders, but the defense argued that only 55 cases had been proved beyond doubt. The defense said that he should only be found guilty of attempted murder in 14 cases and acquitted of an additional 31.

However, the sentencing judge ultimately handed down Högel’s second life sentence in the most severe form possible under German law, which excludes the possibility of early release after serving 15 years.  

The court also barred him from ever working as a nurse, emergency medical responder or any other job providing care. “We want to be sure that you never, ever again are able to work in such a job,” the judge said.

A psychiatrist who served as an expert witness during the trial said that while Högel did suffer from personality disorders, showed by his like a lack of shame, guilt and empathy, he was still psychologically competent to stand trial and serve his sentence.

In court on Wednesday, Högel asked his victims’ families for forgiveness. “I want to apologise wholeheartedly to every single one of you for what I have done over the years.”

He added that over the course of the trial, he had come to understand the amount of suffering his “terrible deeds” had caused.

But his apology wasn’t received well by many. Gaby Lübben, one of the lawyers representing victims’ relatives, told Bild that the apology was not credible. “He only acted out his remorse to gather plus points […] He should have stayed silent.”

Hospitals Face Criticism

During the trial, many have wondered how the hospitals managed to turn a blind eye to the unusually high mortality rates among Högel’s patients.

Former colleagues at the Delmenhorst clinic admitted to having suspicions about him. However, all of the staff from Oldenburg said they were completely unaware of his actions. The sentencing judge condemned the staff for being oblivious to the rising death toll, calling their missed observations “collective amnesia.”

The judge ordered eight of Högel’s former colleagues to be investigated on perjury because of suspicion they had lied to the court or had withheld evidence in the most recent trial. According to the New York Times, two doctors and two head nurses from the Delmenhorst hospital have been charged with manslaughter. Meanwhile, authorities are investigating other hospital employees and Högel could be called to testify in those trials.

News of Högel’s sentencing comes amid outrage over the behaviors of other healthcare professionals. On Wednesday, prosecutors in Ohio charged a doctor with 25 counts of murder for allegedly overprescribing pain medications to patients.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Guardian) (Deutsche Welle)

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China Rushes to Build New Hospital as Coronavirus Spreads

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  • Chinese authorities announced plans to build a 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan by Feb. 3 to treat patients of a deadly new virus that has killed at least 26 people. 
  • More than 800 cases of the never-before-seen strain of the coronavirus have been detected.
  • The majority of the cases are in China, though some have been found in other countries, including the United States. 
  • Officials hope the new hospital will help alleviate some of the pressure on China’s healthcare system, which has been overwhelmed in the wake of the outbreak.

Race to Build Hospital

In the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 26 people, China announced plans on Friday to quickly build a 1,000-bed hospital to treat patients of the epidemic. 

The hospital is being constructed in Wuhan, where the deadly “2019-nCOV” virus originated and is scheduled to be completed by Feb. 3. Images and video from Chinese media show dozens of workers preparing the site. 

Wuhan authorities said the new hospital’s purpose is to “address the insufficiency of existing medical resources,” the Associated Press reported

China’s healthcare system has been strained by the outbreak. At least eight hospitals across Wuhan have called for protective medical gear donations, according to the Associated Press, citing notices online. Video footage has emerged showing health facilities packed with people desperate for help.  

“I am scared because this is a new virus and the figures are alarming,” an unnamed doctor told BBC. “The hospitals have been flooding with patients, there are thousands, I haven’t seen so many before.”

The expedited Wuhan hospital is reminiscent of another project that China undertook almost two decades ago. In 2003, when the nation was swept up by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus that spread to 28 other countries and killed nearly 800 people, a hospital was built from scratch in Beijing in just under a week. 

The Wuhan structure is modeled off the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing and is being made from prefabricated buildings that help with fast assembly.

What is the Coronavirus?

The outbreak causing all the panic is a novel coronavirus — a strain of the coronavirus that has never been seen before. According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe ailments. SARS is a member of this family.

Coronaviruses can be transmitted between people and animals. The novel coronavirus was suspected to have come from a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed for disinfection. The new strain is particularly intimidating because it is not yet known how it affects people or how to treat it.   

At least 12 Chinese cities near the center of the outbreak have been placed on a travel lockdown to prevent further spreading of the virus, affecting roughly 35 million residents. The lockdown comes just ahead of one of China’s most important holidays, Lunar New Year, throwing a wrench in many people’s celebration plans. 

More than 800 cases of the virus have been detected and a few have been found in countries beyond China, including the United States. On Thursday, the World Health Organization said the new virus has not yet reached a level that makes it a global health emergency.

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (Guardian) (The Washington Post)

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Brexit Officially Becomes Law in the United Kingdom

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  • British Parliament passed a final Brexit withdrawal agreement on Wednesday.
  • The following day, Queen Elizabeth gave the bill her royal assent, a formality that turns a bill into law.
  • While the European Parliament is set to make the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union official next week, the U.K. still has a long journey ahead in laying out a new relationship with the EU and countries like the United States.

Brexit Becomes Law

After a bitter three and a half year struggle that resulted in the resignation of two prime ministers, protests, elections, and multiple delays, the United Kingdom has officially signed a Brexit withdrawal agreement. 

Queen Elizabeth gave her royal assent to the bill on Thursday, a formality that gave the agreement the rule of law. Her signature came after parliament passed the agreement Wednesday evening.

In December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party gained an 80 seat majority in Parliament’s elected lower house, the House of Commons. The massive win was seen as a mandate that the United Kingdom wanted to divorce itself from the European Union, and Johnson’s victory gave him the ability to pass the withdrawal agreement through the Commons with ease in early January.

The bill was then sent to the non-elected upper house, the House of Lords. On Tuesday, the Lords passed the bill back to the Commons with several amendments attached. Notably, one of those amendments included a provision that would have protected the rights of refugee children to be reunited with their parents if their parents were in the U.K. post-Brexit.

On Wednesday, the Commons used its majority to reject those amendments and tossed the bill back to the Lords. The Lords, lacking a majority to pass the amendments, passed the bill to prevent the U.K. from missing its current Jan. 31 deadline. 

Before the U.K. officially leaves the EU, however, the EU’s parliament will also need to vote on a final approval of the withdrawal agreement. That vote is expected to happen Jan. 29, and like the Queen’s royal assent, this stage is also largely being viewed as a formality, with it easily expected to pass.

When it does, the U.K. will officially end its 40-year relationship with the EU. 

Reaction to Brexit’s Passage

Unlike the raucous and theatrical debate normally associated with Brexit, the withdrawal agreement’s final passage was largely by the numbers and met with little resistance. 

Thursday, when Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans announced in the Commons that the Queen had given her royal assent, only a handful of members of parliament either threw cheers or jeers. Likely, this is a consequence of December’s sweeping elections. 

However, that doesn’t mean MP’s and other lawmakers haven’t stifled their strong feelings for the agreement’s passage. 

Just after the royal assent announcement, Scottish MP Ian Blackford said the U.K. is facing a “constitutional crisis” because the legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland don’t support Brexit.

On Wednesday, member Alf Dubs—who had proposed the child refugee amendment—expressed his frustration on Twitter. 

“It is bitterly disappointing that after a victory in the Lords, the government have voted down my amendment in the Commons,” he said. “What could be more humane than asking that unaccompanied child refugees stranded in Europe be able to join relatives in this country?”

To note, one of the reasons Dubs is so passionate about the amendment is because he came to the U.K. as a child to escape Nazi persecution shortly before the start of the Second World War.

On the other hand, on Wednesday, after Parliament passed the withdrawal agreement, Johnson said in a statement, “At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it.”

“Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future – with better hospitals and schools, safer streets and opportunity spread to every corner of our country,” he added.

What Happens Once the Divorce Becomes Official?

Following next week’s expected divorce, the U.K. will begin an 11-month transition period with the EU that is currently scheduled to end on January 1, 2021.

During that time, it will continue to follow most of the EU’s rules, but it won’t actually have any decision-making power in the EU.

The U.K. and the EU will also continue to hash out details of what their relationship will look like after that transition period. For example, that includes things like an ambitious free-trade deal, agriculture, and security.

As for negotiations, those are expected to start either sometime next month or in early March, but like how Brexit saw multiple extensions, a lot of EU officials believe this transition period will also need to be extended. Many believe 11 months is too short of a time frame to completely work out all of the details. Johnson, however, has refused to agree to any extensions.

At the same time, Johnson has also been vocal about getting a free-trade deal with the U.S. While in Davos at the World Economic Forum, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also indicated the U.S.’s desire for a trade deal, saying, “It’s an absolute priority of President Trump and we expect to complete that within this year.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross also said that a trade deal shouldn’t be too hard because the U.S. and the U.K. have similar economies.

But the U.S. and U.K. are also currently in a disagreement over a so-called “tech tax.” That riff stims from the U.K.’s plan to introduce a digital services tax on tech companies like Facebook and Google. Mnuchin then threatened to retaliate by potentially slapping a tariff on U.K. car exports.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (The Independent) (Business Insider)

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Greece Elects Katerina Sakellaropoulou as First Woman President

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  • Greece’s first female president was elected on Wednesday in an overwhelming majority vote.
  • Beyond being a large step toward gender equality, Katerina Sakellaropoulou’s election to the largely ceremonial role was a rare display of unity in Greek politics.
  • The high judge received support from lawmakers across all major political parties after being nominated as a nonpartisan candidate by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
  • This was a notable move from the Prime Minister as all but one of the 18 senior positions in his Cabinet are currently held by men.

First Female President-Elect

History was made in Greece on Wednesday when Katerina Sakellaropoulou was chosen to be the nation’s first woman president. 

The 63-year-old high court judge was elected to the largely ceremonial post by parliament in an overwhelming majority vote that showed unity among Greek politicians. She took the presidency in a 261-33 vote, well above the 200 votes needed to win, and received support from Greek lawmakers across all major political parties. Six members of parliament were not present. 

After being notified of her election, Sakellaropoulou said she would strive for the “broadest possible consensus” while she fulfills her presidential duties.  

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis nominated Sakellaropoulou last week as a non-partisan candidate, a move some believe he took to counter the criticism he has faced for selecting nearly an all-male cabinet after he was elected in July 2019. In the current Greek Cabinet, all eighteen senior positions are held by men except for one. 

Sakellaropoulou is a trailblazer in the effort to fix the gender imbalance in the country’s government. She has spent the last fifteen months serving as the president of the Council of State, the country’s top administrative court, and was the first woman to step into that role, too.

Sakellaropoulou will begin her five-year term in March, when the term of Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the current president, comes to an end.

Praise for Sakellaropoulou

Upon the news of Sakellaropoulou’s win, several prominent figures spoke up to express their support. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, tweeted that Greece is “moving ahead into a new era of equality. 

Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, also applauded Sakellaropoulou on Twitter.

“A great signal to elect the Republic’s first female head of state,” Michel wrote. “I strongly believe that Greece will continue to contribute to the future development of the European Union.”

Prime Minister Mitsotakis described the new president-elect as “a great judiciary personality who unites all Greeks from the minute this procedure began.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Independent) (The Washington Post)

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