Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Euthanasia or Murder?

Tell me, what would you do here? You're a nurse taking care of helpless, terminally ill patients. There's a flood, the water is rising in the hospital, ten feet deep on the ground floor. There is no way to get medical supplies, there's no electricity in the suffocating 100-degree heat, no water to drink. With FEMA in charge, the hospital is a low priority for evacuation. Your patients are almost certainly going to die from dehydration, lack of medication, and overheating, a slow, painful way to go.

It appears that during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, some hospital staff gave their patients lethal doses of morphine to speed them to a quick, painless death.
(CNN) -- Two nurses accused in the post-Katrina deaths of four patients at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center have been offered immunity to testify before a special grand jury, sources close to the investigation tell CNN.

Sources also told CNN the grand jury has been told as many as nine patients may have died after being administered what Louisiana's attorney general called a "lethal cocktail" of medications by hospital staff.

Sources: New Orleans nurses offered immunity in deaths

Nobody knows how often this happens in regular hospitals, how many patients get a merciful shot that ends their lives. Of course it's not supposed to happen at all. But it does, without a doubt, it happens sometimes.
Attorneys for Landry and Budo did not immediately return calls from CNN regarding their testimony. Pou's attorney, Rick Simmons, provided a statement saying Pou has had no role in the grand jury proceedings.

"We remain confident that once all the facts are known, all medical personnel will be exonerated of any criminal charges," the statement continued. "The fact that certain witnesses may or may not be talking to the grand jury does not change that fact."

As you read this story, you see that the justice system is dragging its feet any way it can. Family members charge that the nurses wanted to kill the patients to they could flee the building, but nobody else believes that. For one thing, they didn't flee, they stayed and took care of people.
The investigation determined that the four patients -- ages 63, 68, 91 and 93 -- were given a "lethal cocktail" of morphine and midazolam hydrochloride, both central nervous system depressants, [Louisiana Attorney General Charles C.] Foti said.

None of the patients had been prescribed the drugs by their caregivers and none of the accused treated the four before the injections, Foti said.

"This was not euthanasia," Foti said at a news conference last summer. "This was homicide."

Pou, Landry and Budo have denied the charges, and their attorneys have said they acted heroically, staying to treat patients rather than evacuating.

The case has languished since. Foti said he turned his findings over to Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan, who by law must either file charges or reject the case.

This is a pretty long and fascinating story, you ought to follow that link and see what you think.

Sometimes people have to make decisions that they would never have dreamed of. This might have been one of those times.


Anonymous Ken Kipnis said...

I am a professor of philosophy at the University of Hawaii.

I spent a year researching the events at Memorial Medical Center and the general question of whether euthanasia might be ethically excusable under such circumstances.

This work was recently published in the journal SOCIAL RESEARCH
{Volume 74, Number 1 / Spring 2007, pp 79-100).

Here is the abstract:

The New Orleans catastrophe and the subsequent allegation of homicides at Memorial Medical Center have complicated our thinking about end-of-life care. Can the conditions in a collapsed health care system ever excuse euthanasia? Following a review of current legal and ethical standards for the causation of death in the clinical setting, and an assessment of the most common argument for euthanasia — the argument from intractable suffering — a different argument is set out for the excusability of euthanasia, one based on forced abandonment. While more familiar in battlefield medicine, this line of reasoning may have applied in post-Katrina New Orleans. When health care professionals are compelled to leave a hazardous clinical setting, and where it is impossible to evacuate patients who are not expected to survive, clinicians must choose between abandoning these patients to die unattended and unmedicated, or euthanizing them before leaving themselves. Because each of these options stands as an egregious violation of an important health care norm, and because there is no third option, neither violation can be rightly condemned.

The full text is available on the web. Google "Forced Abandonment and Euthanasia"

Ken Kipnis

June 21, 2007 3:01 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Here's the latest news:

Prosecutor Drops Case Against 2 Nurses in Four Post-Katrina Deaths

By Mary Foster
Associated Press
Wednesday, July 4, 2007; Page A07

NEW ORLEANS, July 3 -- The district attorney has dropped the case against two nurses in the deaths of four patients at a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina.

Nurses Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, as well as physician Anna Pou, were arrested last summer and charged with being principals to second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

"We're very pleased. We thought this was how it would end," John DiGiulio, Landry's attorney, said Tuesday. "We're cautiously optimistic that, when it's all over, no one will be charged -- including Dr. Pou."

Continues at:

July 04, 2007 9:48 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Doc Won't Face Charges in Katrina Deaths

The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 25, 2007; 5:49 AM

NEW ORLEANS -- Dr. Anna Pou thought the horror that followed Hurricane Katrina ended when rescue workers plucked her from the flooded hospital where she rode out the storm and its aftermath.

For almost a week, she dealt with no electricity, 110-degree temperatures and death inside Memorial Medical Center. Looters roamed the streets outside. At least 30 people died at the hospital, many from dehydration while waiting for rescuers.

But for Pou, the horrors of the August 2005 storm did not end until Tuesday, when a grand jury refused to indict her on murder and conspiracy charges.

"Today's events are not a triumph, but a moment of remembrance for those who lost their lives in the storm and a tribute to all of those who stayed at their posts and served people most in need," she said at a news conference.

Continues at:

July 25, 2007 7:33 AM  

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