Seven people died in the private hospital in Wegberg after lemon juice was used rather than conventional sterile solutions, to clean and disinfect their operation wounds.
This was decided by the doctor and head of the clinic, Arnold Pier, who along with three other medics, has been charged with 64 counts of grievous bodily harm, concerning 18 patients.
Pier was found guilty of causing bodily harm resulting in death on Friday at the district court in Mönchengladbach. Two other medics involved in the care of that particular woman were exonerated.
The court found that Pier had not sufficiently explained the risks of the operation to the woman, and had not informed her of his intention to use lemon juice on her wounds. She suffered a serious infection after the operation and died.
“The use of lemon juice to treat the wounds of recently-operated patients is medical malpractice,” Judge Lothar Beckers said in his verdict.
He said staff at the hospital regularly used lemon juice under the regime of Pier. The juice was not prepared in sterile conditions, Beckers said, and its use, which probably caused additional pain, was not licensed and experimental in character.
Der Spiegel magazine reported that Pier had bought the St Antonius Hospital in January 2006 from the local authorities for just €26,000, after having worked as a doctor there since the previous July.
The hospital, which had nearly 100 beds, and employed around a dozen doctors, was struggling financially, and bankruptcy was a real threat. The state prosecutor claims that Pier had instructed all section heads to implement strict savings measures, particularly regarding blood supplies, expensive drugs and antiseptic. This is what led patients having lemon juice dripped into their open wounds to disinfect them, rather than a sterile solution.
The charges against Pier also include him having carried out a row of unnecessary operations, such as the removal of kidneys and gall bladders, simply to earn money.
His defence lawyer argued that experts had not been able to establish a negative effect of the lemon juice, and said that Pier had explained everything to the patients. The woman whose death was the subject of this, initial trial, had died from her condition, not her treatment.
Pier said he was convinced of the benefits of lemon juice, yet said he had only used it in certain cases where wounds were not healing.
Further cases are pending concerning the other patients who died.