Disturbing reports continue to emerge about neglect of elderly Covid-19 patients in Sweden. Critics have gone so far as to claim that the aggressive triaging of aged care residents as low priority amounts to non-consented euthanasia.
GP Dr John Tallinger is the chief whistleblower here. Tallinger has collected accounts from other doctors, nurses and victims’ families on his website and denounced Swedish policy as a violation of the Hippocratic Oath in a letter to the World Medical Association.
The policy was apparently intended to stop Swedish hospitals from being overwhelmed during the first wave of the pandemic. “They told us that we shouldn’t send anyone to the hospital, even if they may be 65 and have many years to live. We were told not to send them in,” aged care nurse Latifa Löfvenberg told the BBC.
Even more gravely, Covid-positive aged care patients were reportedly given sedatives instead of oxygen in nursing homes, often without ever seeing a doctor. “Older people are routinely being given morphine and midazolam, which are respiratory-inhibiting. It’s active euthanasia, to say the least,” geriatrics Professor Yngve Gustafson told a Swedish newspaper.
One woman, Juliana Jihem has filed a police report over her uncle’s death. “The doctor told us they were following protocols for the elderly, and since my uncle was so old and weak he wouldn’t get hospital care,” said Jihem. Another, Reza Sedghi, said her father passed away in a nursing home a few hours after being given a morphine shot, with no ambulance ever being called.
What is so perplexing about these stories is that Sweden has a well-resourced public health system that was never overwhelmed by coronavirus cases. “The ICU wards were comparatively empty. Elderly people were not taken to hospitals—they are given sedatives but not oxygen or basic care,” such as intravenous fluids and nutrients, said Dr Cecilia Söderberg-Nauclér of Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm.
Sweden’s pandemic response and the refusal to lock down has been held up as a model by conservatives, who say it balances risk management and quality of life. Yet the story that young people would be allowed to circulate while all possible measures would be taken to protect the elderly and the vulnerable seems not to have been the reality.
Sweden is currently running an inquiry into failings in aged care. Undoubtedly we will hear more about how systemic these accounts from whistleblowers and patients’ families may have been.