Last week, the state of Louisiana filed second degree murder charges against Anna M. Pou, a doctor at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans, and Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, two nurses at the same hospital.
According to the complaint,
BEFORE ME, the undersigned authority, personally came and appeared Virginia B. Rider, Special Agent for the Louisiana Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who, having been duly sworn, did depose and say that Anna M. Pou, Lori L. Budo and Cheri A. Landry did violate La. R.S. 14:24(30.1), Principal to Second Degree Murder, on or about September 1, 2005, by intentionally killing multiple patients by administering or causing to be administered, lethal doses of morphine sulphate (morphine) and/or midazolam (Versed), at Memorial Medical Center located at 2700 Napoleon, New Orleans, Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana.
This is a very complex case, and in some ways is unprecedented. We know that the conditions that existed after Katrina were apalling, and no one is contending that most, if not all, of the patients who were given these injections were in desperate straits, with their normal medication gone, the hospital itself severely damaged, and too sick to move to another facility. So if they had not received the lethal injections, it is quite possible, as the defendants contend, that they would have died and done so in a great deal of agony.
At the same time, the claim that this is akin to voluntary euthanasia is wrong. Let me start by saying that over the years I have changed my position to where I now support the right of terminally ill patients to be euthanized. I had a concern in the past about whether it was moral to take the life even of someone who is near death, but then it seems odd that we would deny a human what we give to a dog or a cat, and as such I have come to my current position of believing that it is the right of patients to make their own decisions on end of life issues. However, in the cases cited, the patients were too ill to even provide consent (though even if they had it would not have been considered legally valid in Louisiana), and their family members were not consulted. Not that there was any way to do that, but nevertheless the family members were not consulted.
I took the time this week to contact Compassion and Choices about their take on this. I received an email back indicating that they have discussed it quite a bit but are bothered by the fact that there was no consent, and as such will wait for the trial to take its course.
And take its course it should.
If in fact it turns out that the accused did kill patients, but did so in extreme and horrible circumstances that no doctor should ever have to face and did so as they believed out of mercy, then it might be appropriate that there is both a guilty verdict (thereby setting case law and making it clear that in the absence of consent this should not have been done) and a pardon (thereby acknowleging the circumstances and allowing this doctor and these two nurses, who by all accounts have always done their jobs very well, to go back to work saving lives, instead of sitting in prison for a decision that honestly none of us can say what we would do if we were in their shoes.)