Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Interesting. Many in the medical community are outraged that a doctor and two nurses are being charge in the mercy killings during Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Ben deBoisblanc, director of critical care at Charity Hospital, said he and others are angry at the accusations against a doctor and nurses who risked their own safety, and provided care in a chaotic and frightening situation.

“This doctor and these nurses were heroes. They stayed behind of their own volition to care for desperately ill people. They had an opportunity to leave and chose not to,” he said.

I certainly wondered how the medical community was going to side on this issue, and after reading a little more about the conditions they faced, I’m even more convinced they did the right thing.

Memorial Medical was swamped with 10 feet of water and isolated by Katrina’s flooding. The 317-bed hospital had no electricity and the temperature inside rose over 100 degrees as the staff tried to tend to patients who waited four days to be evacuated.


“We had no communication floor to floor, much less to the outside world. We were surrounded by water. It was hotter than Hades,” said Dr. Gregory Vorhoff, who was at Memorial after the storm but left to seek help before the alleged killings. “It was as bad as you can imagine.”

Under such conditions, even patients who might have been able to walk or were relatively stable before Katrina could easily have lapsed into critical condition, doctors say.

I’m watching, and I’m sure America is watching, this case with avid interest. Although the phrase, “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” seems trite, it fits this situation quite well.


  1. #1 Corkscrew
    July 23, 2006

    It’s not exactly like the government has any moral high ground here, either…

  2. #2 Abel Pharmboy
    July 23, 2006

    Hey, Shelley, your post made me dig up and repost some classic Terra Sigillata on two examples of the mettle of those medical professionals who stayed behind to care for patients post-Katrina. There are a lot of good (and free) links to NEJM articles and a podcast. The repost is here.

  3. #3 Joseph j7uy5
    July 23, 2006

    Ever since this story broke, I have been wondering what I would have done, as a physician, in the same situation. Of course, I can’t say for sure, but I suspect I would have done the same thing.

    I can say for sure that I would have wanted the same done to me, if I had been one of the patients in that situation.

  4. #4 Julie Stahlhut
    July 24, 2006

    Obviously I don’t know what actually happened, but here’s the first scenario that came to my mind: These people had no reason at all to believe they would be rescued, and every reason to believe that the situation would go on for many more days. As patients deteriorated and more and more of them died in severe pain, the medical staff, already exhausted well past alertness themselves, gave the worst-off patients as much medication as they needed to stop their pain, since there was nothing else that could be done for them. Some of the sickest patients then died a few hours or days before they would have died anyway. This wasn’t what the medical staff intended, but they knew it was a possibility. The alternate possibility was to watch these people die in terrible pain rather than painlessly.

    I’m hoping to see the physician and nurses vindicated soon. I don’t object to an open investigation of the charges, but arresting these people first and asking questions later was an act of political grandstanding.

  5. #5 Shelley Batts
    July 24, 2006

    Thanks for all the honest and thoughtful comments. I really hope that all this sympathetic support is shared by the jury which will judge these doctors.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.