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German transplant surgeon denies accusations of blackmail and fraud

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2574 (Published 18 November 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2574
  1. Annette Tuffs
  1. 1 Heidelberg

    A prominent transplant and cancer surgeon from the University of Essen in Germany has been charged with unlawful gain, bribery, blackmail, extortionate robbery, and fraud more than a year after he was suspended.

    The charges against Christoph Broelsch have been rejected by his lawyer, Rainer Hamm, who said in a press statement that they are entirely unfounded. Mr Hamm is currently trying to stop a court case from opening and has accused the prosecutor of biased investigations.

    In May 2007 Professor Broelsch was publicly accused by the relative of a patient with liver cancer of demanding payments for bringing forward the date of an operation. When police began investigating, a number of patients and relatives reported similar experiences.

    Professor Broelsch subsequently issued a statement denying that he had ever sought financial reward for performing an operation or that he had blackmailed any patients. However, he said that in certain cases when patients without private health insurance asked him to perform an operation he was obliged by German law to tell them that they had to pay extra for his involvement and that the money was to be used for research.

    On 9 October 2007 the rector of Essen University, Lothar Zechlin, suspended Professor Broelsch from his university post (BMJ 2007;335:793, doi:10.1136/bmj.39367.571782.DB).

    In a press statement Willi Kassenböhmer, Essen’s chief public prosecutor, says that Professor Broelsch is being prosecuted for 19 cases in which he is suspected of unlawful gain and asking for and accepting money from patients and relatives for carrying out operations. In three cases the charges are combined with fraud because he delegated the operation to a registrar.

    The standard costs of the operations were covered by healthcare insurance, but patients were asked to make “donations” to a special account for research funds. The donations collected between 2002 and 2007 amounted to €86 000 (£74 000; $110 000).

    In 20 further cases Professor Broelsch gave the impression, the attorney’s press statement says, that swift treatment was possible only if the patients made a financial contribution to the research funds. Eight of the 20 patients had life threatening conditions and needed immediate surgical treatment. The donations amounted to €133 000.

    Furthermore, the accused would have been obliged to share any additional income with the hospital and therefore owes the hospital 35% of the total sum, or €76 000. The attorney also said that further investigations concerning a violation of the German law on transplants are under way.

    In his press statement Mr Hamm says that his client never threatened any patients or relatives, and nor did he make treatment dependent on payment. Furthermore, he said, Professor Broelsch maintains that the research account was known to the hospital administration.

    The decision on whether to admit the case to court is not expected before spring 2009. Meanwhile, one of Professor Broelsch’s patients who donated part of his liver to a relative is trying to mobilise other patients and relatives to make public statements refuting the allegations.

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2574

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