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Posted January 26, 2008
Swedes Ponder Whether Killer Can Be a Doctor


STOCKHOLM — The Karolinska Institute here is famed for choosing the winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine each year, and as one of the world’s most prestigious medical schools it rejects many students with the highest grades.

Last summer, Karl Helge Hampus Svensson, 31, was among the 180 students admitted to the freshman class after receiving top grades in high school and courses he took online over the previous six years.

But last fall, institute officials received two anonymous letters claiming that Mr. Svensson had been a Nazi sympathizer who was paroled from a maximum-security prison after being convicted in 2000 of murder, a killing the police called a hate crime.

After confirming the information, the institute had to decide: should Mr. Svensson be allowed to become a doctor?

There was no legal way to expel Mr. Svensson, because “no national policy covers the situation,” Dr. Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, the Karolinska’s president, said last month. The only grounds for expulsion would be if he were a threat to others or had a psychiatric illness, she said.

Many doctors, students and officials argued that Mr. Svensson should never get a license because of the trust needed in medicine; others said he had served his time and should be permitted to stay and become a doctor.

On Thursday, after considering the case for months, the Karolinska expelled Mr. Svensson on a technical issue: Mr. Svensson had apparently falsified the name on his high school transcripts.

In re-examining his application forms recently, an institute official noticed that Mr. Svensson’s high school transcript, dated 1995, was under his current surname, Svensson, not what is believed to be his family name, Hellekant. Mr. Svensson changed his name after being convicted of the crime.

“That seemed strange to us, so on Wednesday we asked the national agency responsible for verifying application documents to check,” and they could not verify the transcript, Dr. Wallberg-Henriksson said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “We were under the assumption that they had done it because that’s their responsibility.”

Mr. Svensson offered no protest when another Karolinska official notified him of his expulsion, she said.

Mr. Svensson did not respond to numerous attempts to reach him for this article.

In 2000, Mr. Svensson, then Mr. Hellekant, was convicted of shooting a trade union worker, Bjorn Soderberg, 41, seven times after a loud argument outside Mr. Soderberg’s apartment in a Stockholm suburb on the night of Oct. 12, 1999. Mr. Soderberg had complained about a co-worker who displayed his neo-Nazi beliefs at work, leading to the co-worker’s loss of a job and union position. The co-worker was a friend of Mr. Svensson’s.

At the time of the killing, according to court records and Stockholm police officials, Mr. Svensson was under surveillance for neo-Nazi activities by the Swedish Security Service, the equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Despite the conviction, Mr. Svensson maintained that he did not commit the killing.

After serving 6 1/2 years of an 11-year sentence, Mr. Svensson was released on parole in February 2007. According to Swedish prison standards, inmates are usually released after serving two-thirds of their sentence.

While imprisoned, Mr. Svensson took a number of online courses that met the Karolinska’s high standards. Two admissions committee members interviewed him separately, Dr. Wallberg-Henriksson said. One was a psychiatrist. But neither interviewer detected anything unusual or asked him to explain his activities during the previous six-and-a-half-year period, she said.


A medical student's past raised questions about redemption, safety and ethics.


She notified Mr. Svensson’s classmates by intranet on Thursday of the decision to expel him. On Friday she said she would address the students, her third meeting with the student body concerning Mr. Svensson’s case.

Dr. Wallberg-Henriksson first met with students last fall to tell them that a convicted murderer was a classmate.

She met with students again when Mr. Svensson identified himself before his classmates. At that meeting, Mr. Svensson spoke for about 10 minutes without apologizing for the murder or his past. He did say, “Today, I am not the person I was 10 years ago,” Dr. Wallberg-Henriksson said.

After Mr. Svensson spoke at that session, Dr. Wallberg-Henriksson said, she discussed the case with his classmates. One group vehemently expressed the view that he deserved to study medicine because he had served his time. But others disagreed, saying they were scared and felt unsafe having him as a classmate.

The proportion of supporters and critics among the speakers was about even, she said, but many who seemed neutral asked for more information.

Dr. Wallberg-Henriksson said that she offered Mr. Svensson and his classmates consultations with faculty members, including psychologists, and that many responded.

Linnea Zetterman, a medical student at Umea University who went through the same 45-minute interview process in applying to Karolinska, said it seemed strange that the interviewers did not question him about the six-and-a-half-year period.

The interviews were “rigid and made you wonder whether you were suited for the profession,” she said.

A number of doctors, writing in a number of recent issues of Lakartidningen, a journal published by the Swedish Medical Association, have argued that Mr. Svensson should not be allowed to become a doctor.

Also, the Swedish licensing body, which has no authority over medical schools, has said it will not grant Mr. Svensson a medical license if he graduates because of the conviction. That view left Karolinska officials in a quandary over whether and how to tell Mr. Svensson’s patients about his past.

When Dr. Wallberg-Henriksson appealed to the Swedish government to resolve the issue, she said she received mixed signals.

Because the expulsion does not resolve how to handle any future such cases, Sweden must determine whether medical schools can admit a convicted murderer, among other issues, she said.

Lawrence K. Altman reported from Stockholm last month and later added updated information. Majsan Bostrom contributed reporting.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, International, of Friday, January 25, 2008., the scholarly journal of democracy and human rights
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