A court on Friday sentenced two doctors and two ambulance workers to prison terms after finding them guilty in a scheme in which 14 patients were allowed to die — or in several cases outright killed with muscle relaxant — in return for kickbacks from funeral homes.

Under the scheme, funeral homes in the central city of Lodz paid the ambulance service employees bribes asking them for early tip-offs about deaths, so the homes could snap up clients.

A court in Lodz ruled that the defendants went a step further and killed patients or intentionally failed to save their lives in 2000 and 2001 to get a total of some 70,000 zlotys (US$23,000) from the undertakers.

The court sentenced a 38-year-old ambulance crew member, identified only as Andrzej N., to life in prison on conviction that he killed four patients transported by ambulance with injections of a muscle relaxant and contributed to the death of a fifth one.

Another ambulance worker, identified only as Karol B., 40, under Poland's privacy law, was given a 25-year prison term after the court found him guilty of causing the death of one patient and contributing to the deaths of four others.

Two doctors, identified only as Janusz K., 51, and Pawel W., 35, were given prison terms of six and five years respectively for intentionally failing to save the lives of a total of 14 patients.

"Evidence gathered in the case leaves no doubt that the defendants participated in the scheme," presiding judge Jaroslaw Papis said, and called it "uncontrolled insanity."

The verdict is subject to appeal.

The court heard dozens of witness in the case that shocked the nation when the investigation opened in 2002 following reports in local media and in national Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

State officials have blamed the scandal on low pay for government-employed medical workers and a lack of laws regulating intense competition among funeral homes.

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