Euthanasia Investigation in New Orleans:
Medical Personel Charged

syringeFor those who may have read my earlier posts (here, here, and here) about the possibility of euthanasia at a hospital in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricae Katrina, you may be interested in the following report on the conclusion of an investigation by the Louisiana Attorney General, just reported by CNN:

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) — In the desperate days after hurricane Katrina struck, a doctor and two nurses at a flooded New Orleans hospital allegedly killed four patients by giving them a lethal drug cocktail, Louisiana’s top law enforcement official said Tuesday.

“We’re talking about people that pretended that maybe they were God,” Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. said, announcing second-degree murder charges against Dr. Anna Pou, Lori L. Budo and Cheri Landry.

“This is not euthanasia. It’s homicide,” Foti said.

The charges stem from the post-Katrina deaths of some patients at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center.

An affidavit said tests determined that a lethal amount of morphine was administered on September 1 to four patients ages 62, 66, 89 and 90. Hurricane Katrina swamped the city on August 29.

According to the court document, the morphine was paired with midazolam hydrochloride, known by its brand name Versed. Both drugs are central nervous system depressants. Taken together, Foti said, they become “a lethal cocktail that guarantees that you die.”

The doctor and nurses were taken into custody late Monday, following a 10-month investigation that continues. Each was charged with four counts of being a principal to second-degree murder and released on $100,000 bond.

The original reports showed up in a British tabloid not known for its reliability, and this sourcing, as well as some of the details therein, led to widespread scepticism about their reliability. However, interviews with physicians and health care workers at Memorial Hospital raised troubling questions as well, and a formal investigation was launched. The investigation was delayed by the reluctance of the involved hospital personal to testify, as well as the difficulty of obtaining autopsy evidence on the badly decomposed bodies after the fact.

What struck me the most, at the time I first posted it, was the vehemence of some commenters about how ridiculous this report was. One suspects there will be no humble pie eaten by those who sarcastically castigated me for posting on such obviously fictitious urban legends.

But sometimes the truth can be more frightening than fiction.

UPDATE: Here’s some earlier media links filling in some detals of the investigation as it unfolded (I’ll keep this updated as more becomes available):

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14 thoughts on “Euthanasia Investigation in New Orleans:
Medical Personel Charged

  1. Dr. Bob, I recall both the posts, and the comments, and I believe you’re probably right.

    What happened during Katrina, and since, is going to remain a dark blot on our history.

    Not sure how much we’ve learned though …

  2. It is sad to hear when physicians or nurses assume judgment based on their own opinion in this complex decision. It mahy well be that the doctors had the best inh mind; they might have had patients who requested suicide, vegetative patients or others they though were suffering too much.
    As a supporter of assisted suicide I feel sorry for these doctors, nurses and patients. However the seriousness of such a decision cannot be ignored.
    When assisted suicide is approved legally, as in Oregon, Holland and other countries, no pysician can make the decision on the basis of his own opinion.
    Assisted suicide should, in my opinion, be approved in America, but under highly specific conditions decided by not one physician, but by at least a second who has no prior knowledge of the patient and no social or professional contact with the primary physician, an ethicist or person well acquainted with ethics and, most important the clear demand by the patient himself, following all the detailed laws of the state.

  3. Dr. Bob, I’m joining the discussion after it’s over, because I’ve been out of town.

    I understand that this same “cocktail” is given to anyone undergoing a colonoscopy, to relieve anxiety. Wouldn’t the state need to prove not only that the drugs were administered, but that they were given in amounts that would be expected to bring certain death, especially considering both weather and patients’ conditions?

    I do not favor assisted suicide or euthanasia, although we certainly utilize the latter with pets when they are suffering, with no reasonable hope of renewed health. But I also don’t favor D.A.’s who grandstand about their cases, a la the guy prosecuting the Duke la crosse players. My sense (for what that’s worth) is that the guy in NO may be doing the same sort of thing.

  4. Yes, the drug combination is a common one–but one suspects they weren’t doing too many colonoscopies in the aftermath of the hurricane.

    Of course, the DA may be fishing for publicity, and have a very shaky case; from the accounts I’ve read of some health workers at Memorial, it sounds like there’s a good chance there’s quite a bit of substance to it. The trial will be interesting, of course, and it all may prove to be a nothing.

    As to the subject of euthanasia, I may post again soon on this, addressing these points as well as some of Dr Engel’s.

  5. :~) I could also believe not many colonoscopies are done in nursing homes, but what do I know?

    If the charges are well-founded, I could be persuaded that the doctor(s) and nurses involved felt overwhelmed, helpless to do anything else for their patients, and didn’t want to see them suffer anymore. That wouldn’t make their actions legal or necessarily moral, but given the persistent and pervasive humanity of humans, they might be more understandable.

  6. I work in a health care setting, so I have a rather cynical view of what health care professionals are willing to do to make their jobs easier. But you never no what really happened, so it does not pay to judge. However, (there is always a however) I could not help but think of Dr. Bob’s post when I read this article.

  7. Thank you, Dr. Bob, for keeping with this very important issue. The vitriol you got from your original post was totally uncalled-for. You like to cook. Maybe you could modify that turkey technique to make crow a little more tasty for some of those commenters.

  8. A wise sage once told me that crow is a dish best served warm…

    Thanks for your encouragement.

    I’ll be posting some additional thoughts in the next few days (on this case & euthanasia, not turkey or crow).

  9. The Attorney General is grandstanding. He cannot prosecute the case and must refer it to the already overwhelmed local Orleans Parish District Attorney. The one who can’t even prosecute the drug dealers and murderers he’s got in custody.

    Prior to becoming AG he was the Sheriff of Orleans for 30 years and many prison inmates died during his tenure under accusations of lack of medical care. IMO Charles Foti could give a wit about this case except for his 15 minutes of fame. If Foti cared so much he would go after some of the administrators who left the staff and patients stranded for days without power, water, food, etc… He may start with himself.

    I certainly don’t condone euthanasia and I don’t think that’s what happened. I’m also very conserned that no sane medical staffer will volunteer for the next storm.

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