Court Documents Reveal Talk Of Euthanasia At New Orleans
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 24, 2006
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA--A disability rights group this week criticized National Public Radio for using the term "mercy killing" when reporting that doctors at a New Orleans hospital may have deliberately killed some patients after Hurricane Katrina.
NPR's February 16 "All Things Considered" reported that secret court documents had been found which include testimony from witnesses who were present during and after the storm hit on August 29. While not specifically stating that patients had been euthanized, the witnesses reportedly detailed conversations over plans by Memorial Medical Center staff to give some patients lethal doses of painkillers, along with accounts of a doctor filling syringes with morphine.
At least 45 patients died at the hospital during and after the storm.
NPR reported that the documents focused on events concerning patients on the hospital's 7th floor, which had been leased to LifeCare Hospitals, a separate long-term care facility.
Those events reportedly took place on September 1, two days after the levies protecting New Orleans were breached. By that point, the flooded hospital was without power and air conditioning, and was running low on supplies and medications. Evacuations were sporadic as the temperature inside the building climbed to 110 degrees. Security at the hospital was considered at risk as staff heard gunfire on the streets.
NPR reported that the court documents include statements from LifeCare's pharmacy director, the director of physical medicine and an assistant administrator, all saying they were told that the evacuation plan for the 7th floor was to "not leave any living patients behind" and that "a lethal dose would be administered."
One account reportedly came from Angela McManus, whose mother had been on the 7th floor recovering from an infection. McManus said she became frightened when she overheard a nurse say a decision had been made not evacuate LifeCare patients who had DNR (do not resuscitate) orders. Soon after she tried unsuccessfully to rescind her mother's DNR order, armed police officers removed McManus from the hospital. She said that there were still eight patients alive at the time, including her mother.
Stories surfaced in the days after Katrina, mostly in British tabloids, suggesting that doctors and nurses at several unnamed New Orleans hospitals had actively brought about the deaths of patients who were not thought capable of surviving the ordeal. In October, Dr. Bryant King, who was working at Memorial, and Fran Butler, a nurse manager, told CNN News that they overheard medical personnel talking about euthanizing some critically ill patients.
Within weeks, Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. issued dozens of subpoenas to workers at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center, including doctors, nurses and members of the support staff who were at the hospital at the time. A spokesperson said the subpoenas were needed because several witnesses were reluctant to talk voluntarily to the attorney general's office.
While Foti ordered autopsies on all who died at the facility, New Orleans Coroner Frank Minyard has said it would be difficult to prove whether lethal doses of morphine were given the day the patients died, partly because the bodies were in advanced stages of decomposition, and partly because some may have already had legitimate levels of the painkiller in their systems.
In a statement released Tuesday, the disability rights group Not Dead Yet said that the NPR reporter and others unfortunately continue to call the alleged homicides "mercy killings".
"The term 'mercy killing' is a loaded one, a term that tends to generate sympathy for the killer. It's also generally used in those cases when the victim of a murder is old, ill or disabled."
Citing the NPR story, Not Dead Yet noted that the plan to "not leave any living patients behind" was a death sentence.
"In other words, the only way the staff could evacuate was if they could report there were no more living patients to take care of. This was not about compassion or mercy. It was about throwing someone else over the side of the lifeboat in order to save themselves."
"Admittedly, the hospital staff must have been exhausted and scared. We can never know how they rationalized their actions (providing the accounts given by NPR are true). But that doesn't make the alleged killings merciful -- and no one should refer to these killings using that term again."
"New Orleans Hospital Staff Discussed Mercy Killings" (National Public Radio)
"Statement Regarding NPR Story on Katrina Hospital Killings from National Disability Group" (Not Dead Yet)
"People With Disabilities Among Hardest Hit By Hurricanes Katrina & Rita" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)