Hurricane Katrina Investigation Continues of Possible Euthanasia at Hospital

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 20, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Hurricane Katrina Investigation Continues of Possible Euthanasia at Hospital Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 20, 2006

New Orleans, LA ( — An investigation by state officials is continuing into whether staff at a hospital in New Orleans euthanized patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when hospitals were surrounded by water and running short on supplies and hope.

National Public Radio has released a new report after gaining access to court documents that have not been made available to the public. The papers discuss the investigation the Louisiana attorney general’s office is undertaking.

The attorney general is looking into allegations that doctors and nurses at Memorial Medical Center may have given lethal doses of morphine to patients

NPR reports that more than 70 witnesses have been subpoenaed to testify in the probe and large amounts of evidence are being processed. The report indicated no one has been charged and no one has come forward actually witnessing a hospital staff member euthanizing a patient.

New Orleans Coroner Frank Minyard told NPR it would be difficult through an autopsy to determine if a patient had been given a morphine overdose.

The many bodies of patients were badly decomposed by the time authorities were able to remove them from the hospital two weeks after the hurricane. They could have also been given appropriate amounts of morphine to ease their pain and it would be difficult to discern the difference.

As a result, NPR indicates the investigators are relying mostly on eyewitness accounts.

The court papers indicate that staff members had a discussion about long-term care patients on the seventh floor and what to do about them. Three staff members told the attorney general that the plan was to leave no living patients behind and "a lethal dose would be administered" for patients deemed unable to be saved.

One doctor, Bryant King, told CNN in October that he overheard other conversations.

King refused to identify the people involved in the discussions and later said he never heard them talk about euthanasia, only "ending suffering." Yet the tenor of their discussion led him to believe they were planning to end the lives of patients they deemed beyond hope.

"It appeared they were proceeding with that plan," said Dr. King.

Attorney General Charles Foti asked that autopsies be performed on all 45 of the bodies of the dead patients taken from the hospital after the storm.

Tenet Healthcare, which owns Memorial, says 11 of the 45 patients had died before the storm and were placed in the morgue. Most of the others, the hospital company said, were too ill to have survived in a hospital without electricity, water and running out of medical supplies.