To the editor:
Yesterday, the popular CBS program, 60 Minutes, featured what was described as a first in its history, an interview with an imprisoned serial killer, Charles Cullen. No doubt, many of The Journal's readers were also tuned in.
After a hitch in the military followed briefly by other jobs during which he several times attempted suicide, he attended school to qualify himself as a hospital nurse. Then followed a career of nursing at a round of hospitals in the eastern states at which he came under suspicion by colleagues for sudden deaths which occurred among patients, some terminally ill, others on the way to recovery. But there was no proof of guilt. For fear of becoming involved in costly legal battles, one hospital after another simply terminated his service. In none of these cases had there been any background checks before employing the man, the reason given that nurses were in such high demand. Finally the facts came to light at the last hospital in New Jersey. He had been injecting his victims with lethal doses of fluids available to him in the dispensary. No doubt, it could be done surreptitiously during the night shift when no one else was at hand. His guilt proved, he confessed to the crimes and admitted murdering about 20 patients. It has been surmised that the number may be nearer to a hundred and more. In his interview, he showed no sign of remorse, gave his answers in a matter-of-fact way, which, of course, is not unusual with people of this sort.
I am appalled by the story for two reasons. First, the fear among some individuals and institutions to investigate clearly suspicious activities lest one become involved in messy litigation. Second, and far more serious, the laxity among some to check into a person's background. Perhaps the most egregious example of this laxity contributed to the tragedy of 9-11. It happened, we were told again and again, because there was failure "to connect the dots." There is an ancient proverb that it's no use locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen. It happens again and again and, given natural human inertia, it will keep on happening.