An independent general practitioner (GP) named Harold Frederick Shipman was convicted for 15 killings, but in reality, it was up to 200 more victims at his care starting on 1975 to 1998. He prescribed high doses of diamorphine as a pain reliever. He was good at convincing his patients as if he really cared for them. In 1998, he was caught with the case of Mrs. Kathleen Grundy, an 81-year-old active lady who was killed with the lie that she was providing a blood sample to the Manchester’s University research on the aging process. However, she had no idea that it was an excuse from her doctor to obtain her signature and of other two patients to serve as witnesses for a future falsified testament. The next day, the doctor visit her home to take the supposed blood sample. Instead, he injected diamorphine on her veins and silently killed her. On the same day, he changed her medical history to cover his malicious act. Notwithstanding, the solicitant Angela Woodruff was shocked when notified the will arrangements of her mother, Mrs. Grundy, since she had the will in her possession for ten years. She compared the documents and the signature of the witnesses, she noticed that her mother’s wording was not her style and neither did she stated all of her estate possessions in the new will. The police started to investigate Dr. Shipman and found him guilty of more crimes than they expected. The arrest of Dr. Harold Shipman was a contributing factor that leads to an inquiry to make changes in the medical process in areas like the death certificates filling process, the regulation of drugs, and the evaluation of doctors.
His nickname suits perfectly to his atrocities, Dr. Death. This monster camouflaged as a respected doctor in the city of Hyde. His monstrosity comes from the number of victims whose clearly exceeds the number of deaths a doctor can have, moreover for an independent one. He made patients trust him and then find the perfect moment to kill them. His patients fell for his hypocrisy, even when he was arrested there were some that still thought of him as a conscientious doctor (“Dr. Death”). Using the monster theories of Jeffrey Cohen, we see a relationship of this character to thesis three, “The monster always escapes because it refuses easy categorization”(6). He did not have patients to cure but kill. He disguised his serial killer mind with the professionality everyone seeks in a doctor, caring, responsible, easy to talk to, and available at all times for a medical visit. When the people in charge of the largest funeral firm in Hyde started to suspect the frequent deaths that happened to be Dr. Shipman’s patients. Debbie Bambroffe one of the directors of the firm saw a pattern. People who died were mostly elderly women, not terminally ill, and found properly dressed in the living room rather than on the bed. For that reason, Alan Massey from the firm went to talk to Shipman, the doctor handed him the register of deaths confidently, and everything looked normal (“Dr. Death”). This occurred before he was accused of the murder of Mrs. Grundy. Dr. Shipman was prepared for everything that could raise suspicions or, so he thought. He saw flaws in the medical systems and used them to cover his killings. To give some context, at that time when a patient died the doctor to whom the person was attending had to fill the death certificate specifying what he or she believed was the cause of death (“Learning from tragedy” 8). That is why Mr. Massey did not saw anything strange because Shipman altered the real causes of death to cover his traces of murder while earning an extra pay for filling the legal document. For this reason, in the inquiry the government proposed to improve the process of death certification by passing the responsibility to examine the body by an independent medical examiner; who will have access to medical records and talk to the family of the deceased to discuss the cause (“Learning from Tragedy” 19-20). This was to avoid any alterations on legal documents. In fact, when investigating the cause of death for Mrs. Grundy, the police had to dig the bodies of some patients from the graves and do an autopsy to see a pattern of killing. This is how they officially found that the cause of death was for diamorphine, a drug.
During the investigation of Shipman was found a criminal charge for forging prescription of drugs years ago. Since there was a Misuse of Drugs Act in 1971. In 1976 the policy was to not keep controlled drugs, that is why Dr. Death did not have records of where he obtained the drugs. Shipman mentioned that when required he prescribed and picked it from a pharmacy, however, no pharmacy had any history of him asking for drugs. Concluding that he secretly had controlled drugs on his own (“Harold”). Hence, after his arrest, the government sought ways to control the management of drugs for medical purposes. Therefore, a proposal was to have a new controlled drugs inspectorate, strength an audit trail, limit the people that could prescribe them, as well as having to account an officer responsible of the management of drugs (“Learning from tragedy” 11, 20). This is another reform that came about because of Dr. Death. Now, controlled drugs prescription is monitored to detect abnormalities in the doses. Plus, the regulations make it difficult to obtain and misuse-controlled drugs.
The third effect from Dr. Death is the reevaluation of doctors. Dr. Death had a lot of advantages for having his own clinic, “The Surgery”. He could make his own schedule, be unsupervised, kill without witnesses, and not be fired for undesirable behavior. Having his case as an example of the damaging implications a doctor can do without strict regulations, the idea of assessing doctors was reinforced. Consisting that “the GMC [General Medical Council] will be asked to develop clear generic standards to determine whether a doctor is or remains fit to practise [sic]”(“Learning from Tragedy” 25). Doctors will be periodically assessed on his persona and performance. Probably, if Dr. Death was assessed regularly his criminal charges prior to murder would not have allowed him to continue with his career. This is a good implementation to the medical field since patients need to have the security that the person attending his health is appropriate for the task. From theory four, “the monster is difference made flesh, come to dwell among us” (Cohen 7). Harold Shipman represents the fear of death and anxiety to be assisted by a person you know little about. Thus, the new reform might diminish the fear of patients to go to a doctor and the fear of doctors to be called Dr. Death as well.
Nearly 23 years of homicides by a doctor. He abused his authority as a member of the medical field and a moment of greed was what caught him. Cohen writes in thesis seven, monsters “ asks us to reevaluate our cultural assumptions” (20). Dr. Shipman brought awareness on the security of the history of patients and raised questions on how a person could kill without almost any suspicions for so long. He was a ‘professional’ monster whose patients probably had a smile on their face for believing he was saving them. No one would have thought he was a serial killer, he looked like a normal person. He is England’s most infamous criminal.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
I used it as a scholarly use to describe why is he a monster.
“Dr. Death – Harold Shipman.” YouTube, Jun. 2018, youtu.be/vODNjhGnSok.
In the documentary, the story of Harold Shipman is told by members of the police who investigated his case, the staff of the funeral service, patients or family of the dead patient, school friends, and the priest. For all of them was a surprise the assumable conscientious doctor was a murderer. The information can serve me to describe how people perceived the behavior of the doctor before any arrest and how they find out his mal-intentioned actions. I might rely on it as a primary source of my research.
“Harold Shipman’s clinical practice 1974–1998” Department of Health, murderpedia.org/male.S/images/shipman-harold/reports/shipman-clinical-practice.pdf
It is a report of the clinical audit of Shipman’s case. It outlines the registered patients, the cremation forms, the restricted drugs, the pattern of deaths, and a summary of the case. I used this source to describe the problems of the management of drugs and how Shipman was able to prescribe that many drugs. It is reliable since it was created by members of the clinical department.
“Learning from Tragedy, Keeping Patients Safe Overview of the Government’s Action Programme in Response to the Recommendations of the Shipman Inquiry”. Crown Copyright. Feb. 2007, assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228886/7014.pdf.
I liked this text because it explains medical processes and compares it to the case of Shipman. I will use it to point out flaws in the system at the time. It is credible because is presented to Parliament by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health by Command of Her Majesty.
Cole, Clarissa. “Harold Shipman – ‘Paging Doctor Death!”.” The Criminal Code, 18 July 2017, http://www.thecriminalcode.com/index.php/2017/07/18/harold-shipman-paging-doctor-death/.
Harold Shipman.” Guts and Gore, 27 Dec. 2012, http://www.gutsandgore.co.uk/harold-shipman/.
“The Dying Art Of Courtroom Art.” The Unravelling Of Al Cook…, 15 Oct. 2013, alancook.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/the-dying-art-of-courtroom-art/.
“Times opinion.” Times Opinion on Tumblr, 19 July 2012, timesopinion.tumblr.com/post/27513111067/dr-harold-shipman-britains-most-prolific-serial.