Spanish Anesthetist Infected Patients

The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 15, 2007; 1:58 PM

MADRID, Spain -- A Spanish anesthesiologist with hepatitis C was sentenced to prison Tuesday for infecting 275 people with the virus by injecting them with morphine from the same needles he used to feed his own addiction.

In sentencing Juan Maeso to 1,933 years in prison, the Valencia Provincial Court said he tainted the patients by first giving himself a portion of morphine shots meant for them, then shooting the rest into them without changing the syringes. The most he can serve under Spanish law is 20 years.

The 65-year-old worked in four hospitals in the coastal city of Valencia when he infected the people from 1988-1997, the court said. Four patients died.

The court ordered him to pay $200,000 to the families of the four people who died, as part of fines totaling more than $27 million for all of the victims.

It dismissed Maeso's argument that he acted because he was helpless from his drug addiction, saying "in the end, he could have used the drugs in such a way that he did not cause any contagion."

Evidence clearly pointed to him in the infection cases, it said, saying that since he left those four hospitals no patients have come down with hepatitis C.

Amparo Gonzalez, a lawyer for victims, called Maeso "a terrorist who has been laughing for a year-and-a-half, haughty and arrogant as he watched people hear what happened."

Hepatitis C is a chronic, blood-borne infection that affects the liver. Like AIDS, it is often transmitted through contact with the blood of infected persons. It is treatable, but many people who have the disease do not even know they are infected.

© 2007 The Associated Press