Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Trio arrested for `killing' patients during Katrina


A doctor and two nurses who labored at a sweltering, flooded-out hospital in Hurricane Katrina's chaotic aftermath were arrested and accused of murdering four trapped and desperately ill patients with injections of morphine and sedatives.

"We're talking about people that pretended that maybe they were God," Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti said on Tuesday. "And they made that decision."

The defendants were booked on charges of being "principals to second-degree murder," which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

The three were the first medical professionals charged in a months long criminal investigation into whether many of New Orleans' sick and elderly were abandoned or put out of their misery in the days after the storm.

Dr. Anna Pou, a cancer and ear, nose and throat specialist, and the two nurses were accused of deliberately killing four patients, ages 62 to 90, at Memorial Medical Center with a "lethal cocktail" of morphine and Versed. The patients' names were not released.

"There may be more arrests and victims that cannot be mentioned at this time," Foti said. "This case is not over yet."

He planned to turn the case over to the New Orleans district attorney, who will decide whether to ask a grand jury to bring charges.

Memorial Medical had been cut off by flooding after the Aug. 29 hurricane swamped New Orleans. Power was knocked out in the 317-bed hospital and the temperature inside rose over 38?C as the staff tried to tend to patients who waited four days to be evacuated.

In court papers, state investigators said Pou told a nurse executive three days after the hurricane that the patients still awaiting evacuation would probably not survive and that a "decision had been made to administer lethal doses" to them.

Foti, however, said he believed the patients would have lived through the storm's aftermath.

"This is not euthanasia. This is homicide," he said.

Dr. Steven Miles, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota's bioethics center, said that instead of trying to kill, it was more likely that those charged were trying to relieve patients' pain "in a resource-poor environment and were doing the best they could."

He said that there are documented cases where patients have required seemingly lethal morphine doses to relieve extreme pain, and that he doubts the charges will be proven.

"I'm inclined to believe this was palliative sedation that's been misread," Miles said.

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