Half-Pint Heroes

I am away at a medical conference, and so have reposted an older essay, which you will hopefully enjoy. Back soon.

subwayThis week’s news brought the remarkable story of Wesley Autrey, a 50 year-old Vietnam veteran who jumped in front of a subway train to save a man who had fallen onto the tracks while having a seizure.

18-year-old Cameron Hollowpeter suffered a seizure while Autrey, accompanied by his two daughters, was waiting on the platform for the subway. Hollowpeter fell to the tracks after losing his balance, as an incoming train approached the platform. Autrey jumped down to save him — as his daughters looked on — initially attempting to pull him out, but realizing with split-second judgment that there was insufficient time to extract the still-seizing man from the tracks. He threw himself over Hollowpeter, wrapping him in his body to protect his flailing arms, in the shallow ditch between the electrified rails. The train screeched to a halt after passing overhead with but inches to spare, miraculously leaving both men without serious injury.

True acts of heroism are of course newsworthy, and at once both extraordinary and sobering (would you or I have done what Wes Autrey did?) — and draw a sharp and unflattering contrast with what often passes for heroism in our modern culture.

We hear of heroes daily in the papers and on TV: the fireman who rescues a child from a burning building; the policeman shot in the line of duty; the soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save the lives of his buddies. Such acts are heroism indeed, comprised of its core virtue: the willingness to sacrifice one’s life or well-being for another. We say this although we expect such things of these men and women, for this is their chosen calling and career, one which by its nature places them in harm’s way for the benefit of others.

Cheap heroism seeps deeply into our culture like some toxic effluent, poisoning even simple principled acts with a pretension of greatness.

Yet there is increasingly a class of acts now painted as “heroism” which deserves no such depiction. Such cheap heroes — the civic equivalent of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace Christians — seem to grow in number daily. They make no sacrifices, take no risks, suffer no losses when their “heroic” deeds are done. In a society increasing bereft of moral standards and the simplest traits of noble character and integrity, we paint a heroic stamp of approval on increasingly pathetic gestures, gilding our self-serving deeds with a thin gloss of glory.
Continue reading “Half-Pint Heroes”

Memorial Hospital Euthanasia Update

As many have heard, the grand jury in New Orleans declined to bring charges against the physician, Anna Pou, and two nurses, arrested and charged with euthanizing patients at Memorial Hospital in the days following Katrina.

In New Orleans and elsewhere, many — including numerous physicians and the AMA — sighed in relief, hoping to put the nightmare — which many regarded as a gross injustice against heroic health care workers in unimaginably difficult circumstances — behind them.

But CNN is reporting that the issue may not be put to bed quite so easily:

A New Orleans grand jury that declined to indict a doctor on charges that she murdered patients in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina never heard testimony from five medical experts brought in by the state to analyze the deaths.

All five concluded that as many as nine patients were victims of homicide.

In detailed, written statements, the five specialists — whose expertise includes forensic medicine, medical ethics and palliative care — determined that patients at Memorial Medical Center had been deliberately killed with overdoses of drugs after Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005.

The grand jury had been asked to consider second-degree murder charges against a doctor and two nurses in four deaths. But in July, the grand jury decided that no one should be indicted…

In a decision that puzzled the five experts hired by the state, New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan never called them to testify before the grand jury.

The experts themselves were puzzled and frustrated to have their evidence ignored:

“They weren’t interested in presenting those facts to the grand jury,” said Dr. Cyril Wecht, the former coroner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and a past president of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists.

“The hard scientific facts are those from five leading experts, [the patients died] from massive lethal doses of morphine and Versed. As far as I know the toxicological findings were not presented to the grand jury and certainly not with quantitative analysis.” …

“I was never called to the grand jury,” said Caplan. “As far as I know, the grand jury never saw my reports. As far as I know, none of the reports prepared by these experts, who looked at all the cases, who were independent, and came to the conclusion that massive amounts of drugs were used as the cause of death and that they couldn’t have been requested [by the patients], they had to be given involuntarily. That’s evidence that I think a grand jury would want to be familiar with before it made its decision as to whether or not to proceed with an indictment.

“Now you can still get into a dispute about the evidence,” Caplan added. “You can get into a dispute about the circumstances and all the rest of it, but at face value there is no other conclusion I think that’s possible, other than these people — or someone — killed them.”

Dr. Pou testified that she had sedated patients to keep them comfortable in the intolerable conditions; the forensics experts found this an implausible explanation:

“The primary and immediate cause of death for each of these patients was acute combined drug toxicity, specifically morphine and Versed,” wrote Wecht. “The manner of death would be classified as homicide.”

“Large doses of these drugs were present in patients and the administration of the drug was not documented,” wrote James Young, the former chief coroner of the province of Ontario, Canada, who, like Wecht, once served as president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

“Accidental overdoses would need to have occurred nine times between 12 noon and 3:30 p.m., all on one floor, to every patient who was left on the floor,” Young wrote. ” Again, it is noted that morphine was not ordered for seven of the patients and Versed was not ordered for any. Therefore it seems highly unlikely that nine patients died on the same floor on the same afternoon of accidental overdose.”

Caplan wrote that there was no evidence any patient asked to be given assistance in dying, and no evidence that any consented to be given an overdose of medication to end their lives.

“In reviewing the facts and opinions, my conclusion is that the deaths of the nine persons at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans are all cases of active euthanasia,” Caplan wrote. “Each person died with massive doses of narcotic drugs in their bodies.”

The grand jury’s findings remain secret, although there are legal challenges to disclose them. The experts’ summary, however, also includes some chilling testimony, although the witnesses are not identified:

In its executive summary report included with the forensic experts’ findings, the attorney general’s office paints a chilling picture of what its investigators say happened four days after the hurricane hit New Orleans.

The summary cites a number of people — whose names are blacked out in the report — as having offered statements through their attorneys and having sought immunity from prosecution.

The summary states that Pou told the nurse executive of Lifecare, the acute care facility on the seventh floor of the hospital that housed the nine patients, that “a decision had been made to administer lethal doses of morphine to Lifecare patients.”

According to the report, none of the nine was a patient of Pou’s and there was no indication she had talked to their doctors before seeing them on the day they died.

The attorney general’s report also said that other medical personnel told Pou that one of the patients, Emmett Everett Sr., was conscious and alert. Everett was 61 years old, weighed almost 400 pounds and was confined to a wheelchair.

“Dr. Pou decided (patient name blacked out) could not be evacuated. He could not be taken out by boat because he was not ambulatory and Dr. Pou felt he was too heavy to be evacuated by helicopter,” according to the report.”

While we may never know the exact details of what happened at Memorial Hospital, the ghosts of that tragedy may continue to haunt us for years to come.

Grading on a Curve

My previous post, an update on the investigation into deaths at Memorial Hospital during hurricane Katrina, elicited this comment from a reader, Carla:

It was not the district attorney who had these people arrested. It was attorney general of the State, Charles Foti, who had them arrested despite that they were not charged. He made a big grandstand about it saying they were murderers, much like Mike Nifong said the Duke lacrosses players were rapists. The atty. general can investigate pursuant to his powers under the Medicaid Fraud Act. Then he has to turn things over to the local district attorney. Now the district attorney has convened a grand jury to see if he can charge the nurses and doc. that the atty. general arrested. The local coroner says he cannot determine cause of death. May I suggest heat, lack of medical equipment, stress and failure of government. But not lack of care from those who chose to stay behind to help patients and did not leave until all patients were evacuated.

I stand corrected on referring to Charles Foti as district attorney, rather than Louisiana Attorney General. And I wholeheartedly agree that he may well have used the Memorial death case opportunistically for personal political gain: the shadow of Mike Nifong looms long, and politically ambitious prosecutors can destroy lives by abusing the power of their office.

In fact, almost everything about this case begs for dismissal — it is fraught with extraordinary circumstances which solicit quick judgment and counsel hasty condemnation. A raging storm roars through a fragile city long known for its vulnerability, frail aging levies its sole defense against certain disaster. A city flooded, its weakest citizens trapped in a hospital-turned-hellhole. Heroic doctors and desperate nurses battling impossible circumstances, tending to the sick and dying, utterly abandoned by corrupt, inept civil servants and emergency services overwhelmed and overtaxed. An Attorney General exploiting public horror at the trapped and hopeless, sacrificing valiant healers to the gods of political ambition and self-aggrandizement. We desperately want to avert our eyes in disgust, having witnessed yet another example of corrupt politicians and cynical civil servants. The news is old; heap scorn and hurry along; judge harshly and hastily dismiss; feel that self-righteous contempt which comforts the mind while killing the spirit.

Yet pause we must. This perfect storm of pathos and perfidy masks a simple question which we ignore at our peril:
Continue reading “Grading on a Curve”

Katrina Euthanasia Update

Lost in the dustbin of inconvenient memories, left behind in the light-speed pace of internet information mania is the story of the deaths of patients at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. A physician and two nurses were arrested after the Louisiana District Attorney charged them with murder, accusing them of having injected a lethal cocktail to terminate frail patients who had no hope of rescue from the hell-hole the hospital had become.

The arrests were widely decried in the medical community — most of whom clearly had read none of the rather compelling and chilling testimony of other physicians and nurses who were present at the hospital. The case quickly became mired in charges of political grandstanding by the DA, who was considering running for governor and using the publicity around the case to raise money for his campaign. It subsequently went to a grand jury, which has used deliberate — some would say glacial — speed in investigating the case.

CNN today reports an update on the grand jury proceedings, where two of the involved nurses have been offered immunity to testify against the physician accused, Dr. Anna Pou.

The CNN update mentions this previously-unknown side story:

Craig Nelson, a New Orleans lawyer who is convinced his mother was killed by a lethal dose of morphine, has taken steps to file a civil lawsuit.

Nelson had an autopsy performed on the body of his mother, Elaine Nelson. The 90-year-old Jefferson Parish resident died inside Memorial Medical Center during the aftermath of the hurricane. Nelson said her death is not part of the murder investigation because his mother was elderly, frail and sick.

She was a patient of LifeCare, a long-term care facility run inside Memorial Medical Center’s seventh floor. Nelson said his sister was helping to care for his mother during Katrina, but was asked to leave. It was after his sister was evacuated that he was told his mother had died.

Test results conducted by a private lab hired by the lawyer indicate high levels of morphine in Elaine Nelson’s liver, muscle tissue and brain, Nelson said. He said his mother should have had no morphine in her system, since none had been prescribed to her in the week and a half before she died.

My prior discussion of this event may be found here, along with a substantial list of links for more information.

Moving the Ancient Boundaries – IV

This is a series on the erosion of moral, cultural, and ethical boundaries in modern society:
 ♦ Part 1 — Moving the Ancient Boundaries

 ♦ Part 2 — The Rebel & the Victim
 ♦ Part 3 — Undermining Civil Authority

stone walls

Do not move the ancient boundary stone
   set up by your forefathers.

        — Proverbs 22:28 —


 ♦ The Assault on Religious Authority

Undermining the legitimacy of civil authority and mutating the role of government into an instrument for protecting personal licentiousness — while endlessly chasing solutions to the incorrigible problems thus generated — is a key element in the secular postmodern pursuit of a utopian dream of unbridled freedom without consequences. But it is not sufficient; other centers of authority must likewise be transformed to serve the individual over the common good, or neutralized to overcome their resistance to such trends.

Religion, which promotes transcendent values, and strives to restrain destructive individualism and promote the common good through the development of character strengths such as service, charity, self-restraint, and accountability, is a prime alternative source of authority to government — and serves to restrain its excesses and aberrant tendencies as well. As such it is a prime target for the individualist committed to promoting an unrestrained and unaccountable utopia, enforced by the levers of government power.
Continue reading “Moving the Ancient Boundaries – IV”

Moving the Ancient Boundaries – III

This is a series on the erosion of moral, cultural, and ethical boundaries in modern society:
 ♦ Part 1 — Moving the Ancient Boundaries

 ♦ Part 2 — The Rebel & the Victim

stone walls

Do not move the ancient boundary stone
   set up by your forefathers.

        — Proverbs 22:28 —

In prior posts, we began to examine some of the many ways which a society will evolve and act if it seeks to move the ancient boundaries, to chip away at absolutes, principles, and tradition in order to create a new utopia grounded in narcissism and libertinism. Here, I will continue to illustrate the means whereby an increasingly individualistic and relativistic society, having lost its moorings in faith, absolute principles, and tradition, undermines its own foundations. This post will address the undermining of civil authority and government; the next, the assault on religious authority.
 ♦ The Assault on Civil Authority

Authority in Western society serves — at least in theory — the people whom it governs. As embodied in government, it exists to protect, to preserve societal order and norms, and to promote the common good. It functions to protect individual members of society from harm from its renegade members, from natural dangers, such as fire or natural disasters, from large societal upheaval such as riots and civil unrest, and from threats to national security or sovereignty. This authority is embodied in both law and the necessary authorized force to restrain the destructive and centrifugal forces in society and maintain civil order.

But law and legal force alone cannot restrain such evil tendencies, short of enforcing a despotic and tyrannical rule which is the antithesis of democracy and freedom. To function optimally, authority must be based on a shared tradition of self-restraint and ethical behavior, operating under the common denominator that the good of society as a whole outweighs individual desires and priorities — and delegating the enforcement of the common good to those in authority when individual license violates societal norms and standards.

In an age of narcissistic individualism, then, authority must be undermined, for it represents a constraint and impediment to the utopian vision of ultimate human freedom posited in unrestricted individual license. For the individualist, personal gain always trumps the common good. The view of authority in such radical individualism is changed: its goal now primarily — if not exclusively — protection of the individual’s rights, and secondarily, the mitigation of the inevitable consequences of such self-centered behavior. In societies where such individualism becomes preeminent, we see the evolution of authority primarily into the guarantor of autonomy and the guarantee of relief from its effects.
Continue reading “Moving the Ancient Boundaries – III”

Moving the Ancient Boundaries – II

This is a series on the erosion of moral, cultural, and ethical boundaries in modern society:
 ♦ Part 1 — Moving the Ancient Boundaries

stone wall

Do not move the ancient boundary stone set up
   by your forefathers.

        — Proverbs 22:28 —

The societal trend evident today — the gradual and progressive shift from spirituality and faith-based life principles, to scientific secular rationalism, and ultimately to postmodernism, which is the triumph of tribalism, radical individualism, and emotionalism over faith and reason — has many manifestations. The frantic pace of a society filled with countless pressures and endless distractions permits us at best to focus only on the immediate details of our lives — jobs, children, hobbies and activities. Rarely do we take the time to stand back from our culture and society at large to contemplate the profound changes taking place around us. We wake up one day wondering how things have changed so profoundly, with a sense of discomfort over where we are and confusion about where we they are headed.

As our society drifts away from core principles and absolutes established by faith, culture, and tradition, it has done so in a manner which is subtle, yet highly effective. Many of the ways in which this cultural shift has taken place are ancient; many more are a function of a technologically advanced and media-saturated environment. The underlying forces which erode the safeguards which have protected and stabilized society for centuries are not new; they are, however, more rapid and effective in a culture distracted by material wealth, information saturation, and instant gratification.
Continue reading “Moving the Ancient Boundaries – II”

More Embryonic Stem Cell Info

I’ve recently referenced an excellent article on the huge gap between hype and reality with embryonic stem cell research (as opposed to the real and growing applications of adult stem cells), and Michael Fumento again points out the huge gap between myth and reality here (HT: Instapundit). Maybe the word is starting to get out — although I’m not holding my breath.

On a separate note, I’ve been quite busy lately, with several personnel changes in the office in the works, but have a few essays near completion on the Faith series (part 1 and part 2 here), Moving the Ancient Boundaries, as well as updates on the Narrows Bridge construction — so stay tuned.

God bless, back soon.