You are a doctor at a hospital in New Orleans, and you’ve just heard that the worst hurricane to hit New Orleans in centuries is headed your way. Your hospital is completely unprepared for this event, and nurses, doctors, and staff are leaving in droves. The wind and rain whip the hospital, tree branches are breaking through the windows. The power goes out; those on life supporting machines are now supported by a generator. Then, the generator goes out. You watch patients suffocate and die, as the hospital halls are filled with panicked, frantic patients, family, and staff. As the water levels rise outside, you are left with only the most loyal of caregivers—the nurses and doctors who have stayed behind despite concerns for their own safety—and their families and property. This bare-bones, frazzled group stands with you in an empty hospital, scared outta their minds, and looks to you—-what do we do? Are we going to die? And over the screaming wind, the crashing, the glass shattering, and terrified yells, you tell them what you are going to do. (More under the fold……)
This scenario (while the product of my imagination) was probably not unlike the real situation that the doctors, now being prosecuted for 2nd degree murder, faced during Katrina.
In the hours before the last of the hospital’s patients were evacuated, one of Hurricane Katrina’s most uncomfortable decisions had to be made: What would happen to those too sick to be moved?
Should they be left, in terror, to drown or be crushed by debris?
Should we go down with the ship, sacrifice our own lives to tend to the hopeless?
Or, should they be given a painless, quick death—–but face the possibility that we would be murderers?
What is the humane thing to do?
According to a months long investigation by the state’s attorney general that was made public Tuesday, a doctor and two nurses “pretended that maybe they were God” and put to death four patients using a lethal injection of drugs, after deciding that the four were either too ill or too incapacitated to be transported.
The deceased, who ranged in age from 61 to 90 years old, would have survived Katrina had they not been administered the lethal doses, Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti said.
In a situation such as this, there are no easy choices. But this prosecution now makes that decision all the more difficult. In a city where real murders are happening every day, the time of the Attorney General could be better spent. When I am 90 years old and Katrina is at my doorstep, I can only hope that some doctors such as these will give me a peaceful way out.