Two nurses have confessed to killing at least 16 patients who were in critical condition, but not terminally ill, for "humanitarian reasons" at two Uruguayan Hospitals without the consent of their families.

The two men said they killed the patients with overdose injections of morphine and air to "cause death within minutes," and the number murdered could rise to more than 60, according to Uruguayan daily El País and Argentina's Clarín. 

Murder charges were filed against the 40- and 46-year-old nurses on Sunday and a female nurse was charged with covering up a crime, judicial officials said.

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Lawyer Inés Massiotim, representing one of the nurses charged with "especially aggravated murder" said her client acted "out of pity."

"After 20 years of working in intensive care, with stress and in contact with death, he could not stand it anymore," Massioti said. 

The judge has ordered the suspects to remain in jail while the investigation proceeds.

Judge Rolando Vomero said after a court hearing that the accused admitted to killing 16 patients, but added that the investigation continued and the number was not final. 

Vomero said there was no indication the two male nurses were acting together and said most of the apparent victims "were not terminally ill." One male nurse who worked at both hospitals admitted being involved in five induced deaths, and the other to 11 deaths in one hospital.

The judge said that from the evidence gathered so far, it "does not appear that there were any connections" between the two nurses "even though they both worked at the same place."  No further information was released on the three accused nurses because none had a criminal record.

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The arrests come at the end of a two month investigation, code named Operation Angels, in hospitals throughout the country. Investigators sifted through hospital records cross referencing the hospital deaths and the health personnel working in the sectors involved. In all cases crossed, the victims dates and times corresponded with the two accused nurses.

Earlier in the day, police inspector José Luis Roldán said officials were investigating suspicions that some hospital workers had given poison to patients who were in critical condition at the two hospitals.

Roldán said the allegations center on the private Sociedad Española hospital and the public Maciel Hospital. Officials at both declined to comment.

The South American country's Public Health Ministry issued a statement saying it was cooperating with the investigation into "presumed criminal acts linked to the health area." It gave no details about the allegations, but said it was conducting its own investigation and expressed "profound concern."

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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