The institute says it accepted the man onto its medicine course without knowing of his crimes. He had been released on parole in February this year, according to Dagens Nyheter. He was sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment at the beginning of the decade. The murder was classed as a so-called hate crime.
Senior doctors have expressed dismay at the news that the man was accepted onto the course.
“I am both angry and upset that they did not know about this before the person was accepted onto the medicine course,” said Eva Nilsson Bågenholm, chairwoman of the Swedish Medical Association, to news agency TT.
“Our view is that, in general, having committed murder is not compatible with being a doctor,” she said.
Medical students at the Karolinska Institute are asked to give detailed biographies as part of the application process. They also have to demonstrate an ability to empathize and show social skills, maturity and tolerance.
The university says that at no point during the process did the man mention his conviction. It only came to light after two anonymous letters were received by university officials.
But Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, President of the Karolinska Insitute, said that neither the conviction itself nor the fact that the man had failed to give a full account of his past were reason enough to expel him from the course.
“We decided that he had been accepted in a proper manner and we therefore have an obligation to give him an education. We have no right to expel someone because he or she has been imprisoned,” she told Dagens Nyheter.
In an email to The Local, Wallberg-Henriksson added:
“As a government authority, Karolinska Institutet must follow the laws and regulations that apply to college and university educational programs. Swedish legislation states that, once accepted to a university program, students cannot be expelled unless they have committed a serious crime during the course of their studies.
“I fully understand that many people are upset by and question these regulations, and I believe that it is important to have an open debate about these issues.”
The student told Dagens Nyheter that he had a right to a fresh start.
“If everyone were to know about everyone else’s background, society would not work. There is a dialogue between me and the Karolinska Institute,” he said.
Swedish law does not currently allow criminal record checks to be carried out on people applying for licences to practice medicine. People aiming to work as childcare assistants, however, must undergo full criminal checks.
But this could soon change: the National Board of Health and Welfare, which is responsible for issuing permits, is investigating whether criminal background checks could be made compulsory.
“It is not good that a licence does not require a record check. When someone works in a field that is based on trust the patient should be able to feel secure,” said Thomas Tegenfeldt, head of the board’s unit for patient safety, to Svenska Dagbladet.
A government inquiry into patient safety is also looking at demands to require criminal checks on people working in the healthcare sector.
Politicians responsible for Stockholm’s healthcare sector expressed concern at the news. Rasmus Jonlund, a spokesman for the Liberal Party on Stockholm County Council told The Local “one might wish for medicine courses to have more careful controls,” but added that “we have to be careful with questions of personal integrity.”