October 13, 2005

Please Don't Create a Natalie Holloway Out of the Katrina Disaster
Euthanasia Witchhunt in Progress

I don't mean for this to be "hammer on the media" week, and nobody played a bigger role in circulating that story about purported euthanasia in New Orleans than our blog (we had 115,000 hits to that story alone in one day), but the story really just needs to, um, die now.

After investigating the story that patients were euthanized in the New Orleans nursing home, we discovered (as did several reporters) that the original source for the original story in a New Zealand newspaper was not a physician or healthcare worker at all but in fact a bystander whose story could not be corroborated and in fact who could not be found to give more detail. I'm guessing it was a hoax, in fact.

Now I am the first to say that the story is still interesting in that it raises some of the issues that we confront in the special Bioethics in the Eye of the Storm issue, particularly concerning whether or not in fact it might have been appropriate under certain circumstances to aid patients in dying peacefully (the literal meaning of euthanasia) who would otherwise have imminently died in great pain. The "battlefield triage" question, in other words.

But that is not the question that CNN is asking. They are chasing phantoms in New Orleans, and from the read of it there is still no real evidence to support going on what may well take on a new life as a conspiracy theory. Check out the story on the CNN site:

The Louisiana attorney general's office is investigating allegations that mercy killings occurred and has requested that autopsies be performed on all 45 bodies taken from the hospital after the storm. Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard said investigators have told him they think euthanasia may have been committed. "They thought someone was going around injecting people with some sort of lethal medication," Minyard said. Dr. Bryant King, who was working at Memorial when conditions were at their worst, told CNN that while he did not witness any acts of euthanasia, "most people know something happened that shouldn't have happened."
It would certainly be important to find the folks who might have done such a thing, but until that happens can we please avoid turning the massive disaster in end of life planning in New Orleans into a non-stop Nancy Grace marathon, ala "find the Aruba girl"?
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