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Elizabeth Wettlaufer: British author who’s studied cases says the Southwestern Ontario woman’s murder spree pales by comparison to some

By Hank Daniszewski, The London Free Press

Canadians may be astounded by Elizabeth Wettlaufer’s murder spree, but an international expert said there’s been a shocking number of similar cases around the world of nurses killing patients with insulin overdoses.

Dr. Vincent Marks of the University of Surrey, in England, even co-wrote a book on the subject of insulin being used as a murder weapon.

“It’s not unheard of for nurses to be convicted of far more murders than Wettlaufer . . . It’s not unique to Canada,” Marks said Friday from Europe.

Marks, co-author of The Insulin Murders, is often called on as a medical expert witness, including in the infamous 1982 trial of Claus von Bulow. the British socialite who was accused of trying to murder his wife with insulin.

Marks said the most infamous case was Charles Cullen, a nurse who killed at least 40 people during his 16-year nursing career in New Jersey and may have been responsible for hundreds of deaths.

He said Australia had two cases just last year of nurses killing patients with insulin.

Marks said Wettlaufer’s almost-trivial motives for killing patients is also not unusual. He said sometimes, there’s no apparent motive.

Her said overdoses of insulin are easy to detect. The patient goes into a coma, and their low blood-sugar level can be detected with a simple test.

“As long as people are alert to the possibility that people could do these terrible things. Nobody thinks nurses will harm their patients,” said Marks.

Marks said insulin may be commonly-used as a weapon because it’s so widely available, with the number of diabetic patients on the rise because of obesity.

Naturally produced by the body, but either lacking in diabetics or their systems resistant to it, insulin helps to keep blood-sugar levels from getting too high or too low.

He said health facilities should have a system in place to detect and investigate possible insulin overdoses before a patient dies.

“That would be quite reasonable. In every case of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) a sample of blood should be collected before treatment until an explanation can be found,” said Marks.

He said those blood samples have been key to detecting health providers who are harming patients with overdoses.

Marks said Britain has had investigations into individual cases of insulin overdose deaths, but no broad public inquiry — as many are demanding now, in the fallout of eight deaths at two Southwestern Ontario nursing homes, for which Wettlaufer pleaded guilty this week to eight counts of first-degree murder.

“Perhaps Canadians can lead the way in that regard,” Marks said.

hdaniszewski@postmedia.com

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