New Orleans Nurses Offered Immunity in Katrina Euthanasia Deaths

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 20, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

New Orleans Nurses Offered Immunity in Katrina Euthanasia Deaths Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 20
, 2007

New Orleans, LA ( — Two nurses accused of euthanizing patients in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have been offered immunity to get them to testify before a special grand jury. A doctor and the nurses who worked at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center were arrested on charges that they killed four patients.

New reports indicated the people involved are not accused of killing as many as nine patients so they could relinquish their responsibility for patients and flee the hospital as conditions there deteriorated.

According to a CNN report, family members of the staffers told the grand jury the details during its investigation.

The charges involve Dr. Anna Pou and nurses Cheri Landry and Lori Budo. They were charged with second-degree murder.

The CNN report indicated the nurses are expected to testify in the next two weeks. That could indicate the case is ready to conclude and that Dr. Pou could be the main target of the probe instead of the nurses.

Pou’s attorney, Rick Simmons, told the news station that Pou did not have any role in the grand jury proceedings.

"We remain confident that once all the facts are known, all medical personnel will be exonerated of any criminal charges," Simmons said. "The fact that certain witnesses may or may not be talking to the grand jury does not change that fact."

Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti launched an investigation into the deaths of 34 patients at the hospital during and after the hurricane. More than 70 witnesses were subpoenaed to testify in the probe.

Foti told CNN the investigation found that four patients were given a lethal dose of morphine and other drugs to hasten their death.

After Foti’s investigation, he turned the case over to Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan who let a grand jury determine whether any charges should be sought.

Kris Wartelle, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Charles Foti said the state’s top attorney general didn’t consider the deaths euthanasia but homicides.

"We’re not calling this euthanasia. We’re not calling this mercy killings. This is second-degree murder," Wartelle said.

National Public Radio, in February 2006, published papers from the investigation that indicated 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.

But, Dr. Pou had told Baton Rouge television station WBRZ in November that "There were some patients there who were critically ill who, regardless of the storm, had the orders of do not resuscitate. In other words, if they died, to allow them to die naturally, and to not use heroic methods to resuscitate them."

"We all did everything in our power to give the best treatment that we could to the patients in the hospital to make them comfortable," Pou said then.

Meanwhile, Angela McManus told AP that her 70 year-old mother was in the hospital at the time recovering from a blood infection and appeared in fine condition when relatives were told to leave the hospital. She died later that day.

"At least now I’ll be able to get some answers," McManus said. "For months, I haven’t known what happened to my mom. I need some answers just to be able to function."