HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Swedish Medical Students and Criminals too

The New York Times has an interesting article on some recent difficulties Swedish medical schools have had with criminals applying and being accepted at their schools.  Dr. Lawrence Altman writes,

In contrast with the United States, Swedish laws and customs are sympathetic to released offenders, saying that once they have served their time they should be treated like ordinary citizens. But the cases raise questions about protecting the rights of patients and fellow medical students and health care workers.

Entry to Swedish medical schools is highly competitive. At Uppsala, for example, a spokeswoman said there were 2,603 applicants for the spring semester and just 100 admissions. They include Mr. Svensson, who is taking up a taxpayer-financed slot that could have gone to another student.

Indeed, the Uppsala County Council, which runs all government health facilities in the area, says it will not allow Mr. Svensson to do any clinical work, which is a critical and mandatory part of medical school training. That raises questions about how he will complete a degree even if he does attend classes.

Mr. Svensson, who has not responded to numerous attempts to reach him over the last year, was convicted in the 1999 hate murder of a trade union worker and was paroled after serving 6 ½ years of an 11-year sentence — a typical penalty for murder in Sweden. He entered Karolinska in fall 2007 while still on probation; he had earned credits for medical school while in prison. . . .

The disclosures about his past proved deeply embarrassing to the institute. Among other things, two senior faculty members on the admissions committee that interviewed him failed to ask for an explanation of the six-and-a-half-year gap in his résumé, the period he was in prison.

Swedish universities are legally prohibited from conducting background checks on applicants. To complicate matters, Mr. Svensson legally changed his surname from Hellekant after his conviction.

In the United States, the chances of a convicted criminal’s being admitted to medical school were reduced in 2002, when the Association of American Medical Colleges’ standard application form began requiring answers to questions about felony convictions. In 2008, questions were also added about military discharge history and misdemeanor convictions. . . .

The Swedish medical licensing agency said that it would not allow Mr. Svensson to practice even if he earned his medical degree. But because the agency’s jurisdiction excludes universities, questions arose about whether and how medical school officials should inform patients examined by Mr. Svensson about his criminal past, and what the patients’ responses would be. . . .

Last year, Karolinska officials, acting in part on a committee’s recommendation, exhorted the Swedish parliament to enact legislation to allow medical schools a freer hand in admitting and dismissing students in cases where they would have patient contact.  But little has happened.  . . .

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