Euthanasia Investigation in New Orleans

hospital bed

In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, there were some scattered reports–in an admittedly questionable media source (a British tabloid)–of euthanasia of patients trapped in a New Orleans hospital. I discussed the initial media report here, and did a follow up post here which expanded on the questionable nature of the sources and some of the comments in response. In brief, there was widespread skepticism from some commenters on the veracity of this report, which was, in their opinion, pure urban legend–and I was castigated for lending credence to such an outrageous myth.

Apparently they never got the word to the Louisiana Attorney General.

CNN is now reporting that a very active investigation is currently underway of Memorial Hospital–where 45 patients were found dead–by the Attorney General’s office. This investigation to date has uncovered additional testimony that euthanasia was actively discussed and may well have been performed:

The Louisiana attorney general’s office is investigating allegations that mercy killings occurred and has requested that autopsies be performed on all 45 bodies taken from the hospital after the storm.Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard said investigators have told him they think euthanasia may have been committed.

“They thought someone was going around injecting people with some sort of lethal medication,” Minyard said.

A nurse manager, Fran Butler, is quoted as saying:

“My nurses wanted to know what was the plan? Did they say to put people out of their misery? Yes. … They wanted to know how to get them out of their misery,” she said.

Butler also told CNN that a doctor approached her at one point and discussed the subject of putting patients to sleep, and “made the comment to me on how she was totally against it and wouldn’t do it.”

Dr. Bryant King, a physician who was present at the hospital, was also interviewed by the AG’s office, and recounts his story:

But King said he is convinced the discussion of euthanasia was more than talk. He said another doctor came to him at 9 a.m. Thursday and recounted a conversation with a hospital administrator and a third doctor who suggested patients be put out of their misery.

King said that the second physician — who opposed mercy killing — told him that “this other [third] doctor said she’d be willing to do it.”

About three hours later, King said, the second-floor triage area where he was working was cleared of everyone except patients, a second hospital administrator and two doctors, including the physician who had first raised the question of mercy killing…

One of the physicians then produced a handful of syringes, King said.

“I don’t know what’s in the syringes. … The only thing I heard the physician say was, ‘I’m going to give you something to make you feel better,’ ” King said….

King said he decided he would have no part of what he believed was about to happen.

Time will tell how this investigation turns out–and it may ultimately be very difficult to prove what happened at Memorial Hospital, given the poor condition of the bodies and the difficulty in distinguishing therapeutic pain management and sedation versus the same drugs used in doses sufficient to kill. One suspects that those involved in such actions–if they occurred–will be loath to admit it–and likely would have been careful to avoid witnesses, if at all possible.

And I’m sure those who so vehemently argued the absurdity of this story will belly up to the bar and confess they may have overreacted just a bit–but I’m not holding my breath waiting.

Update 10-27-2005: CNN is reporting that dozens of subpoenas have been issued to find out what happened at Memorial:

The subpoenas were served on employees of all levels at Memorial Medical Center, which is owned by Tenet Healthcare, because “cooperation, lately, has not been as good as I had hoped,” Foti said.

The subpoenas require that people appear before investigators for questioning.

“Some people were not coming forward. We learned Tenet sent out a letter that had a chilling effect,” Foti said. “We had no choice but to issue these subpoenas.”

“They [Tenet] seem to be in a position of protecting themselves, while we are just trying to get to the facts of what happened at the hospital,” the attorney general said.

Stay tuned–this may begin to get very interesting…

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