TOYAMA (Kyodo) A surgeon at a hospital in Imizu, Toyama Prefecture, said Wednesday he had removed respirators from six of seven patients who died between 2000 and 2005 at the hospital with consent from their families, although he admitted having no paperwork to back up this claim.

The 50-year-old surgeon, who has not been identified by the media, initially said family members of the seven patients were present when the respirators were removed at Imizu City Hospital and another doctor witnessed the removal in six of the seven cases. But later in the day, he said that he “could not recall” involvement with the family of one of the patients.

It is the first time the surgeon has agreed to be interviewed by the media since the hospital revealed the incidents Saturday.

On Saturday, hospital officials quoted the surgeon as saying that he removed the respirators of the seven people, aged from their 50s to 90s, five of whom suffered from cancer, for the patients’ sake and that their deaths were “dignified.”

The surgeon said Wednesday there are no documents of consent, claiming the respirators “in many cases were removed based on a relationship of trust with patients’ families, and I could not ask them to sign a document as I felt sorry for them.”

He said he will let the courts decide the legality.

On Tuesday, sources quoted the surgeon as saying he “agonized” over whether “it was acceptable to (allow the patients to suffer) further pain or to free them” from their suffering, before deciding to remove the respirators.

Police are cautiously investigating, indicating they believe overcompassion on the surgeon’s part toward his patients may have led him to end the life support. The cases came to light in October when a nurse told the hospital’s deputy head that the surgeon was going to euthanize a 78-year-old patient who later died while on a respirator after suffering a stroke.

The Yokohama District Court in 1995 deemed legal euthanasia via dosing or other acts by doctors if four conditions are met: the patient’s death is imminent; there is unendurable pain; there is no other way to remove or alleviate the pain; and the patient wishes to be euthanized.

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