'Race deaths' played down

THE DOCTOR accused of Nazi- style medical experiements sat calmly in Zimbabwe's High Court, briefly wearing a monocle, as his defence lawyers began attacking the state's case that Richard McGown's negligence in the use of spinal injections of morphine had killed five patients.

State prosecutors, led by the Attorney-General, Patrick Chinamasa, promised to call 32 witnesses to back the indictment on five counts of culpable homocide against Dr McGown, 57. The state did not allege, however, that Dr McGown had experimented with mainly black patients as a parliamentary select committee had claimed last year. The defence lawyer, Chris Anderson, who served as minister of justice under Ian Smith's Rhodesian Front government and in President Robert Mugabe's cabinet, spent much of his time attacking the March 1993 parliamentary committee which set the trial in motion and MPs who accused Dr McGown of being a 'human killing-machine' bent on genocide.

'The effect . . . was to implant in the minds of the public that he is guilty of experimentation which is not alleged and the charges which he is not facing,' said Mr Anderson. Of the first 460 children who received epidural injections, he said, 60 per cent were white.

The five counts of culpable homicide as outlined by Mr Chinamasa focused on a general lack of post-operative observation, especially needed after the 'epidural' method of injecting morphine into the membrane enveloping the spinal cord because of possible respiratory complications. The epidural method has been in common use in many Western hospitals, but Dr McGown became a pioneer of the approach since reading about it in the British medical journal, the Lancet, in 1979.

He began using the method the next year and wrote and lectured abroad on his findings. By the time Irene Papatheocharous, 26, died in 1986 after a gallstone operation, Dr McGown had administered hundreds of such injections. Four other patients later died.

The trial is expected to last at least a month.