Alice in Texas

Not writing here anymore- see top post for details of my new blogs.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

a post on a horrible subject

(I will be returning to happier subjects immediately following this, which needs to get out of my system.)

Can you name the world's worst ever serial killer? I have only heard of one person who, working entirely alone, murdered a minimum of two hundred and fifty innocent people before being detected. His name was Harold Shipman.

Or, to give him a full description, as the Guardian does on the bottom of their obituary after he committed suicide in prison:

Harold Frederick Shipman, general practitioner and murderer, born January 14 1946; died January 13 2004


"General practitioner and murderer." Does that sound a little contradictory to you?

Of course not.

"Shipman was excellent doctor," say colleagues.

There is currently a professional misconduct case running against those colleagues, without whose co-operation Shipman would not have been able to get so far, and who are claiming innocence on the grounds that he had an excellent professional reputation, and appeared entirely trustworthy. My guess is that they are speaking the whole truth as they see it, and there was no collusion, just collective blindness, which is not a criminal offence.

What kind of blindness? The blindness that accepts evidence at face-value and dismisses incongruities and dissonances that ought to be clues as trivial and not worth pursuing.

One example given of Shipman's exemplary professional character/reputation is his willingness frequently to visit his patients at home, and his involvement with their lives and needs.

Dr Dirckze added that Shipman would often go "beyond the call of duty" to help his patients and would visit people "two or three times a day" when they were ill.

"That was his way of giving them more appropriate care than just sending them to hospital," said Dr Dirckze.

He added that Shipman was a popular doctor among patients because he gave them "a more personal approach".

Dr Dirckze said: "He came across as very caring and would go beyond the call of most GPs' duty.

"Very often we heard stories of what he was doing that the rest of us wouldn't dream of doing.

To point out that we now have the benefit of hindsight is beyond an understatement. However: I personally find this exemplary behaviour immediately and obviously the opposite. Let me just illustrate how the above might have been written:

Dr Dirckze added that Shipman would often visit patients far more often than was medically necessary, using his authority as a doctor and their vulnerability as old, sick and needy people to ingratiate himself into their lives.

"Very often we heard stories of what he was doing that the rest of us wouldn't dream of doing. It never seemed odd to us that despite regarding Shipman as admirable, not one of us ever sought to emulate his example. We took for granted that other doctors obviously worked much harder and better than ourselves. Now we know that actually, the rest of us were getting on with our jobs, while he was using his medical authority to gain access into people's lives and murder them with morphine overdoses. But then our scepticism was blocked by our own complacency."

I have written before about how to tell the difference between genuine people and frauds, niceness and creepiness, common decency and charming manipulation. I don't feel like going into it all again. So in response to the inevitable question, "But how could those doctors have perceived that Shipman might be a fake?" (because a little suspicion is all it takes to start checking someone out, and uncovering the evidence if there is any) I have only one reply.

Were they looking?

And also, are we looking?

The fact that Shipman was a doctor still, to this day, excuses him in people's minds. "Maybe those people wanted to be put out of their misery..." But they were not, as it happens, terminally ill. Shipman's victims ranged in age from 41 to 93. Yet the "But he was a good doctor..." refrain continues, and Shipman is somehow regarded as not so much a cold-blooded serial killer as an unfortunately disturbed grief-stricken victim himself, as the abovementioned obituary illustates very well. The fact that good doctors do not murder hundreds of their patients seems irrelevant. One must wonder what people do regard as a "good doctor" these days.

Terrible lessons are still waiting to be learned. Anyone still not 150% clear on this should go here, and read the whole thing.

It takes a bit of scrolling.


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