I got to the office before my preceptor this morning, and had some time to look at my favorite medical blogs. Found this story of the doctor and nurses being accused of euthanizing patients during the Katrina evacuation from GruntDoc. I guess I identify with this profession now; my first response on reading of doctors being accused of murder is, that can’t be right, they’ve got their facts mixed up. I didn’t post about this the first time I heard it, because that’s not a logical reason for being concerned. But after looking at GruntDoc’s post, and this story, I agree that this smells fishy.

Reading the CNN story (and figuring they made up half of what they said, and left out the key statements from everyone else): 1) The story says the patients were killed with morphine paired with midazolam [Versed], which is a “lethal cocktail.” That is so stupid. Anesthesiologists and critical care doctors from different specialties administer both of these together, often in conjunction with some other pretty heavy stuff, to achieve sedation and pain control. I can think of lots of good reasons for patients to get these; first thing that comes to mind is they were severely ill patients who needed to be sedated during the chaotic evacuation process.

2) The allegation is that the killings were done to “speed up the evacuation.” How would killing only four patients help speed anything up? In a hospital with hundreds of patients, four more or less is not going to significantly affect anything.

3) The evidence, as reported to the media, seems to consist of the hospital administrators having discussed the possibility of euthanasia (as what modern ethicist has not? isn’t the classical situation in which euthanasia would become acceptable? why is everyone so shocked?), and one doctor saw another doctor “with a handful of syringes.” Really? A handful of syringes now equals homicide? Did the witness see bright red labels saying “lethal cocktail” on the syringes? Maybe they were saline flushes, needed to inject any medications. Again, there’s dozens of good reasons for a doctor in the middle of an ongoing disaster to have several syringes in hand.

I’m sure you can expect to hear more about this.