The girl is almost twelve years old, her twin sister should not live because of severe brain damage. The medically, ethically and legally complex and controversial case dealt with the district court for the second time on Thursday. Two medical professionals with brilliant careers in the dock. It remains for her with suspended sentences for joint manslaughter in a – legally – less serious case.
The chief physician at the time, Klaus V., was sentenced to one year and seven months on probation, while Babett R., senior physician at a hospital, was given a one-year and four-month suspended sentence. This reduced the suspended sentences imposed in the first trial slightly – by two months in each case. The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) had already confirmed the guilty verdict in November 2020. The two doctors are now threatened with the revocation of their license to practice medicine.
In the summer of 2010, Babett R., Senior Physician, and Klaus V., then Chief Physician, had used deadly potassium chloride during a twin birth in a clinic. Her concern was for the well-being of the healthy child. The other twin had already been diagnosed with severe brain damage during pregnancy. There had also been complications because the fetuses shared the placenta. After consultation, the parents decided to have an abortion. There was a medical indication for a late termination.
The mother of the identical twins felt that she was in good hands with Babett R. She had previously been treated in Hamburg and had the impression that no one wanted to help her. She was 32 weeks pregnant when labor started. Babett R. and Klaus V., now 60 and 75 years old, decided to have a Caesarean section. The healthy child was born at around 5:20 a.m. Shortly thereafter, while still in the womb, they injected the other twin with deadly potassium chloride.
An anonymous complaint got the case rolling against the two doctors years later. They said in court that they assumed a legally permissible interference at the time. When does a fetus become a human being? This was the subject of debate in the first trial in autumn 2019. The judgment then said that doctors knew “that it is forbidden to inject a child to death in the open womb”.
According to the courts, the intervention should only have been carried out before and not after the birth. The BGH supported the Berlin judgment that the rules for an abortion would only apply until the beginning of the birth. According to criminal law, the fetus becomes a human when the labor pains begin or, in the case of a caesarean section, when the uterus is opened. However, the BGH ordered a new hearing before another criminal division of the district court on the sentence.
The defendants expressed regret. A lawyer said: “Here the condemnation is the curse of the well-intentioned deed.” The court took into account, among other things, the length of the proceedings and the threatened professional consequences for the accused when determining the sentence.