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Euthanasia in Katrina aftermath?
Report: Staff at hospital where 45 patients died debated mercy killings

A doctor who was on duty at a New Orleans hospital during the throes of Hurricane Katrina suspects euthanasia might be behind the abnormally high number of patient deaths that took place there.

"Most people know something happened that shouldn't have happened," Dr. Bryant King told CNN.

Although he says he didn't witness any mercy killings, he believes other physicians terminally sedated patients.

"There was only one patient that died overnight," he added. "The previous day, there were only two. From Thursday to Friday, for there to be 10 times that many, just doesn't make sense to me."

Memorial Medical Center is one of six hospitals and 13 nursing homes under investigation by the Louisiana attorney general's office for deaths that occurred during the ferocious hurricane and its immediate aftermath.

Investigators with the Medicaid fraud control unit are looking into whether facilities bungled evacuations of patients, abandoned them as conditions deteriorated or carried out euthanasia while waiting on rescue workers.

Records were seized from Memorial Medial Center and autopsies will be performed on the 45 bodies recovered from the facility. Eleven patients died before Katrina hit and were being stored in the morgue. Another 34 patients died during the storm and the days that followed, when the facility was partially flooded and without electricity. Of those 34, 24 patients were in an acute care unit run by a separate company, LifeCare Holdings Inc.

According to a statement released by parent company Tenet Healthcare Corp., approximately 2,000 patients, families, physicians and staff were evacuated from the hospital by boat and helicopter between Wednesday morning, Aug. 31, and Friday, Sept. 2.

It was the wait that was maddening, according to the press report.

By the third day without water, sanitation and power to run medical equipment; dwindling food supplies; and temperatures reaching 110 degrees, caregivers began debating among themselves about euthanasia.

On the fourth day, two physicians and a hospital administrator, none of whom CNN named, gathered all the patients together in a triage area and prepared to give them injections.

"I'm going to give you something to make you feel better," King overheard a physician say. When it was suggested prayers be said, he bolted from the room, not wishing to be a part of what he thought was about to take place.

"[We] did everything humanly possible to save these patients," the doctor King identified as holding the syringes to be used for the injections told CNN. "The government totally abandoned us to die. In the houses, in the streets, in the hospitals. ... Maybe a lot of us made mistakes, but we made the best decisions we could at the time."

Euthanasia foe Rita Marker with the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide sounded a note of caution and warned against jumping to conclusions.

"I think it's important to wait until the investigation is completed because if, in fact, you have a situation where patients were in great distress because of the heat, because of their illnesses and whatever and doctors were giving them injections of pain medication or were sedating them to treat their symptoms, that would be certainly morally acceptable," Marker told WND. "However, if those [injections] were given for the purpose of killing the patient, then you have cases of involuntary euthanasia. And whether done supposedly out of altruistic motives or not, then that would certainly be homicide. ... So we have to find out exactly what the motive here was."

Marker pointed out the so-called "double effect," whereby physician-administered painkillers kill the patient along with the pain, has been accepted in law and ethics for centuries.

"Sometimes people lose sight of that and say, "Well the effects turn out the same [as euthanasia] because the patient could die," she added. "Well a patient could die of a risky surgery too, but the purpose of doing it is not to kill the patient."

The controversy sparked by this fine line between taking away pain or life-prolonging medical treatment, and taking away the patient reached a feverish pitch in the familial tug of war over the fate of Terri Schiavo earlier this year. The 41-year-old brain-damaged Florida woman died March 31, 13 days after her gastric feeding tube was removed per court order.

Much of the debate centered on whether feeding tubes represent burdensome or extraordinary medical interventions that can be removed from incapacitated persons or whether they represent basic, humane care and should be kept in place.

While constitutional and statutory law allows for the removal of feeding tubes from incapacitated persons if it's deemed to be their will or in their best interest, it was widely disputed this was the case for Terri Schiavo.

Just released from WND Books, the definitive book on the Terri Schiavo saga, titled "Terri's Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman." Author Diana Lynne tells a powerful, insightful, and ultimately heartbreaking story. This eye-opening book provides the background and depth missing in most of the national news coverage of the pitched battle over the life of Terri Schiavo.

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