So, You Say you’re Against Mercy Killing….
This paper examines three sources of information regarding the events at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and throughout the wait for evacuation. It explores the ethical dilemmas of those left to care for the sick. The main issue, mercy killing, was foisted upon some of the staff with the added stressors of very little sleep, food, relief staff, or aid from governmental agencies. The sources are used in a deliberate attempt to read between the lines of how perceptions and memories may have been affected over time as well as the self-preservation and protection sought from those in charge. Keywords: ethical dilemma, mercy killing
I wrestled with the issues involved in this story. I always prided myself as an absolutist. I have always felt mercy killing to be wrong unequivocally. I saw it as a way to dispose of the unwanted of society. I was always reminded of the infamous name whenever the term mercy killing would be uttered and that is the name most people associate with the term; Hitler. He used that excuse to exterminate 6 million innocent people. To hear the word made me physically ill. That’s why I wrestled with the ethical issues in this article to the degree in which I did. This was not an easy account to come to grips with. After reading the events that transpired I have come to a partial change of heart. In late August 2005 the staff at Memorial Hospital, owned by Tenet Hospitals in Houston, was braced to weather the storm. They had weathered hurricanes before and they thought they were braced for it. I don’t think anyone could be prepared for what was about to ensue. The rain and winds hurled their attacks, but the hospital stood strong. The people of the community that used the hospital as their fortress were safe and sound. All was relatively calm until the following day. That is when all hell broke loose. Decisions were made that are hard to delineate as moral or immoral. There were no easy answers. I don’t think there were any hard answers. There were just impossible dilemmas with equally impossible answers. One year after the hurricane, it would be front page news that two nurses and a well-known physician would be arrested for second degree murder. 45 people died at Memorial Hospital that week and 17 of them had been injected with morphine or midazolam or both. There is a plethora of characters involved in this story and all had a different part to play, in what some say was easing suffering patients’ pain, and others would call mercy killing. To get a clearer picture of this incident, you will need to be introduced to the main characters. Dr. Pou was a head and neck cancer surgeon who was later arrested on 2nd degree murder charges for euthanizing 4 patients. (Fink, 2009) Richard Deichmann was a newly promoted administrator who helped oversee the physicians during the crisis and was instrumental in the decision to evacuate patients with a terminal illness or a DNR status last. Susan Mulderick was the rotating “emergency-incident commander” and nursing director that also participated in “medicating” patients that were not thought to survive. Diane Robichaux was the incident commander for LifeCare Hospital. She advocated for the evacuation of her patients. LifeCare leased the seventh floor of Memorial and cared for long term sub-acute patients. Therese Mendez, a LifeCare nurse executive, complied with requests to dismiss her staff knowing her patients were going to be euthanized. Steven Harris was the LifeCare pharmacist who provided Dr. Pou with additional morphine and a strong anti-anxiety medication, midazolam. Ewing Cook was a pulmonologist who euthanized the first patient and instructed Dr. Pou how much “medication” to give to “ease the patient’s suffering.” Cheri Landry and Lori...
References: Bailey, R. (2010). The Case of Dr. Anna Pou—Physician Liability in Emergency Situations. American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, 726-730.
Crystal Franco, E. T. (2006). Systemic Collapse: Medical Care in the Aftermath of Katrina. UPMC Center for Health Security. Baltimore: UPMC Center for Health Security. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from UPMC Center for Health Security: http://www.upmchealthsecurity.org/website/resources/publications/2006/2006-06-15-systemiccollapsemedcareafterkatrina.html
Fink, S. (2009, August 25). Magazine: New York Times. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from New York Times Web site: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/magazine/30doctors.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
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