There have been rumors swirling since September 2005 that instead of evacuating bedridden hospital patients in the post-Hurricane Katrina aftermath, some doctors used lethal injections to euthanize patients who had previously signed DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) waivers.
Choosing not to leave behind those patients to the chance of a successful rescue or a certain death by starvation or drowning, the very doctors sworn to “First Do No Harm” shattered that covenant with a single plunge of a syringe. December 2, 2005, The Mercury News reported:
Authorities investigating whether hospital and nursing home patients were put out of their misery during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are testing as many as 100 of the dead for lethal doses of morphine or other such drugs.
CNN said this on December 21, 2005:
Dr. Bryant King, a contract physician for Memorial who was working there when conditions were at their worst, told CNN exclusively that another doctor came to him at 9 a.m. on Thursday, and recounted a conversation that they had had with a hospital administrator. According to King, the doctor said that the administrator suggested patients be put “out of their misery.”When King objected, this physician acknowledged his concerns but said that “this other [third] doctor said she’d be willing to do it.” King said another hospital administrator asked if he and the two other remaining doctors should pray. King says one of those doctors, Dr. Anna Pou, had a handful of syringes. “This is on the second floor in the lobby. And across that walkway there is a group of patients and Anna standing there with a handful of syringes talking to patients,” he said. “And the words that I heard her say were, ‘I’m going to give you something to make you feel better.” “And she had a handful of syringes.
That was strange on a lot of levels. Number one, we don’t give medications; nurses give medications. We almost never give medications ourselves unless it’s something critical. Nobody walks around with a handful of syringes and goes and gives the same thing to each patient. It’s not how we do it.”
On February 16, 2006, National Public Radio broke this story:
According to statements given to an investigator in the attorney general’s office, LifeCare’s pharmacy director, the director of physical medicine and an assistant administrator say they were told that the evacuation plan for the seventh floor was to “not leave any living patients behind,” and that “a lethal dose would be administered,” according to their statements in court documents.According to eye-witness accounts, LifeCare’s pharmacy director said that later that Thursday morning, he found Dr. Anna Pou in the seventh-floor medical-charting room. According to his statement, Pou and two unnamed nurses informed him that it had been decided to administer lethal doses to LifeCare patients. From the court documents, it is not clear where the instruction came from. When asked what medication was to be given, the pharmacy director told the investigator from the AG’s office that Pou showed him a big pack of morphine vials. The LifeCare pharmacy director stated that, before evacuating, he saw Pou and the two nurses enter the rooms of remaining LifeCare patients.
On February 21, 2006 Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights organization opposing legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia responded to the NPR story:
…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. In fact, this doesn’t look all that different from the abandonment of the 34 individuals in St. Rita’s Nursing Home in Bernard Parrish.In that incident, 34 people drowned after they were abandoned by staff. Death by drowning is easy to prove and so the owners of the nursing home are charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide. It’s unclear what will happen in the case of LifeCare medical staff. It’s hard to prove morphine medication overdoses in badly decomposed bodies.
NPR also shared how the human toll of Hurricane Katrina travels far beyond the dead and into the core of the living:
Angela McManus became seriously frightened for her mother when she overheard nurses saying a decision was made not to evacuate LifeCare’s DNR patients…. She tried to rescind her mother’s DNR order to no avail. On Wednesday evening, two full days after Katrina hit, Angela McManus says three New Orleans police officers approached her with guns drawn and told her she would have to leave. New Orleans police confirm that armed officers did evacuate non-essential staff from the hospital. Confronted by police, McManus raced to her mother’s bed.”I woke her up and I told her that I had to leave, and I told her that it was OK, to go on and be with Jesus, and she understood me because she cried,” McManus recalled. “First she screamed, then she cried. And I said, ‘Momma, do you understand?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ And she asked me, she asked me to sing to her one more time. And I did it, and everyone was crying, and then I left. I had to leave her there. The police escorted me seven floors down.” McManus says that when she left, only eight patients, including her mother, remained alive in LifeCare.
Two days later they were all dead. UPDATE: July 24, 2007
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – All charges against a doctor accused of murdering four patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have been dropped, U.S. prosecutors said on Tuesday. A grand jury in New Orleans decided not to pursue charges against Anna Pou, who was arrested along with two nurses from Memorial Medical Center on second-degree murder charges in June 2006.