Saving lives or prolonging the death experience?

All this Katrina coverage is especially important to me. I spent most of my life in a New Orleans suburb and all of my family is still there. Thankfully, they are doing well and lost very little. I came across this Crispin Sartwell piece and felt compelled to write about it. It seems that in the chaos of being left on their own during Katrina, some NOLA doctors allegedly discussed putting terminally ill patients out of their misery.

My sister is a nursing home director in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. I talked to her and even took in her child while she put the evacuation of 250 patients ahead of her own safety. I know first hand the desperation that she felt scrambling to get food when they ran out, her concern about caring for patients in the dark. I was able to speak to her for a second and heard the winds howling outside and the fear inside. And she was in a safe zone. Her evacuation was successful. I cannot imagine what it would have been like stuck in NOLA with terminally ill patients and no resources to help them. I think I can see how the topic of easing one’s pain came up.

I asked a doctor I know his opinion on the matter. I hear him say daily sometimes you are saving life and sometimes simply prolonging the death experience. I asked him if he would have considered using the syringe for these patients. He almost bit my head off when he said no. He did add that he wasn’t necessarily opposed to easing pain with a little more morpine than needed, but he would be afraid of the legal problems that would come about. In our society, it is murder to assist in the death process and unfortunately, circumstance, quality of life, and even the patient’s wishes aren’t even considered.

Perhaps instead of an investigation of the area’s caregivers, Louisiana should turn the focus inward. Perhaps they can determine which state agency’s incompetence contributed to the death of Memorial Medical Center’s patients. Self-reflection is more diffucult that pointing your finger somewhere else, but it is definitely worth it in the end.

  1. Well written, and thanks for the personal insight.

    I’ll simply add that it seems that city, state, and federal agencies involved in the travesty all need to be equally investigated, then probably abolished.