Cheat-Seeking Missles

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Katrina Doc Should Walk

Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses, Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, are on trial for murder in New Orleans after 34 patients died at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center following hurricane Katrina. They are charged with giving lethal injections to three patients.

And they should be. Absolutely.

But they should not be found guilty.

The charges are necessary because doctors and nurses injecting patients with lethal doses of medicine cannot be taken lightly. Ever. And especially when no consent has been granted.

A trial sends a message to the medical community that even in the most extenuating and dire circumstances, society is going to take a hard, hard look at anyone who practices euthanasia. We don't want to follow the Dutch on this matter.

But were they to be found guilty, it would be a travesty. The guilty party is the city of New Orleans and its incompetent yet grandstanding mayor. How elementary is it that emergencies require a focus on the weakest and most infirm, and most of them are in hospitals. The doc and her nurses were criticised for not evacuating the hospital. But here's the "evacuation plan," courtesy of the NYTimes (which also gets credit for the photo):
[Pou attorney Richard T. Simmons Jr.] said the sickest patients could not have been evacuated on the inflatable boats being used. And he said that to take patients to the roof for helicopter rescues, orderlies had to squeeze them through a 3-foot-by-3-foot hole in a hospital wall and push them on gurneys up the ramps of the parking garage before carrying them onto the roof.

Mr. Simmons said some patients also died while being transported under those conditions.

Faced with conditions like this because of the systemic failure of the City of New Orleans, Pou and company had to deal with nightmarish situations. Focusing on them leaves the real culprits in soft focus.

I do fear that the hench-lawyers who circled Michael Shiavo, arguing for society's "right" to kill off people who have become too expensive, will take Pou's case as a "right to kill" case. That would change my thinking, and I'd be rooting for Pou's conviction. But if the defense focuses on Pou's powerlessness against the monumental incompetence of the city, they can use the trial to put the city on trial, and just might win an aquittal that doesn't set case law for "right to kill" activists.

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