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,

    This story in the UK paper that started all this, never passed the smell test from the beginning. Now the rumormill is trying to hang the Tenet Administrators out to dry as well. I know personally that the VP of Ops for Tenet in Dallas and the CEO were personally working their fanny’s off trying to get help and helios in for rescue. Trever Fetter, CEO of Tenet himself as said they called in Blackwater to evac patients and staff with the help of the Ross Perot and his son. So why would the doctor and nurses in question do this? Makes absolutely no sense. Didn’t then– doesn’t now.

    I am writing up my opinion over on my blog, and honestly I’m just warming up…

    Thanks for the opinion and letting me vent with peers.

    Mary Wehmeier

  2. Yes, the UK paper was a rag, and its initial story had lots of holes — facts of which I was unaware when I first posted on the story, and subsequently acknowledged. What really caught my eye about this case — and what almost certainly initiated the investigation — was first-person statements from physicians and other health-care workers at Memorial who reported that active euthanasia had in fact occurred. Since seeing these first-hand reports, I have followed the case very closely, and if any of these first-hand reports held up under scrutiny and oath, it would be derelict not to pursue them.

    The activities and motivations of Tenet administrators seem to me to be largely irrelevant to whether the physician and nurses in question actually carried out euthanasia. I have worked at a Tenet hospital, and I found their administration to be absolutely horrid: money first, patients last, hired marginal docs on a regular basis. Is this relevant to the Memorial Hospital investigation? Of course not–it just demonstrates that most people ranting on this incident, whichever side they are on, have strong opinions not based on much, if any, fact. I’ve seen comments made by physicians who support Dr. Pao because they knew her in high school, for goodness sake! (“I went to nursery school with Dr. Pao, and she was the cutest baby! She could never have done such a thing!”)

    I am actually agnostic on the merits of the Memorial case — there are simply are not enough hard facts available to know exactly what happened. Should this case come to trial, far more information will be in the public domain, and it may be possible to make a reasoned judgment, but it is not so now.

    And, yes, the Attorney General may well be grandstanding: DA’s and Attorneys General do this all the time for political purposes. But this strikes me as an odd case to use for political gain: most people, rightly so, consider the physicians and nurses who endured hurricane Katrina to be heroes. Prosecuting heroes is a no-win situation for a politician: imagine a prosecutor going after a 9/11 fireman, for example.

    The intensity of feeling about this case comes not from the mere prosecution of a physician in Katrina, but because it has lanced the boil of the euthanasia controversy. There is lots of heat, and very little light, on both sides of this debate right now. I am currently working on a rather extended post on euthanasia which hopefully will shed more light without needless heat, which I hope to have up fairly soon, time permitting.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. I heard about this shortly after Katrina on a UK newspaper ‘gossipy’ sort of website, and searched, but could not find a single solitary word online about it anyplace else, especially not here in the US. So I said… nah, can’t be true, can it? Sadly, it was, and sadly, those involved seem to not think that they did anything wrong…

  4. Unwittingly the debate for euthanasia has turned our sympathies away from the patient to those in charge of decision making. This is a trend which can be seen elsewhere than in the New Orleans Memorial Hospital debate. It is also seen in obortion rights and day care for newborns as well as other places where a call for compassionate guardianship is called for. When citizens in the “home of the brave” will awaken to their responsibilty for those they are supposed to care for, these issues will evaporate. I, for one, cringe at the outcome of our increasingly selfish society.

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