Murder or Treatment?
Is Dr. Anna Pou a hero or a criminal? Some physicians think Louisiana's attorney general is on shaky ground charging Dr. Pou and two nurses with murdering patients who were stuck at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center during Hurricane Katrina.
By all accounts, Dr. Pou is a skilled and dedicated physician. She chose to stay at the hospital for days after the hurricane passed, hampered by heat, the absence of electricity, and dwindling supplies of medicine. The prosecution claims that Dr. Pou and two nurses "went from room to room with a set of syringes and vials, injecting at least four patients with a combination of drugs intended to kill those who could not easily be evacuated from the hospital."
The state's forensic pathologist found traces of both morphine and a central nervous system sedative in the tissue samples of several patients who died, drugs that they were not supposed to have in their bodies.
But what does this prove? That a doctor in desperate circumstances engaged in mercy killings, or that she used whatever drugs she had at hand to ease the suffering of patients while awaiting rescue?
"I'm fundamentally unconvinced of the framing of the story," said Dr. Steven Miles, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota and an expert on the care of dying patients. "I'm not inclined to believe this is a euthanasia scenario or a physician-assisted suicide scenario."
One reason, Dr. Miles said, is that the drugs found in the dead patients -- morphine and the sedative Versed -- are not all that deadly and may not even have been what killed the patients. Many patients develop tolerances to the drugs and can handle high doses, he said. Barbiturates, readily available in a hospital, would be a far more efficient way to kill somebody if that was the intent, he added. ...
He also pointed out that two million deaths a year occur in medical settings, and 85 percent to 90 percent of those are preceded by decisions to withhold or end life support. The vast majority involve sedation.
Some witnesses claim they heard Dr. Pou talking about administering "lethal doses" of morphine. Even if that's true, will a jury second-guess what may have been a medical judgment that doomed patients should die in peace, not in pain?
|< Botched Drug Raid Map | Lebanese PM Claims He Was Misquoted >|