In July, 2007, a grand jury decided not to file charges against Dr. Pou, the New Orleans ENT surgeon who was involved in the potential euthanasia of nine patients during Hurricane Katrina. Now, Dr. Susan Okie dives deeper into the case and reports much more details surrounding the circumstances of the deaths of these nine patients.
The central question asked by Dr. Okie, which can't be answered by anyone in the midst of ongoing civil litigation against Dr. Pou, is why these nine died "...in light of the eventual evacuation of about 200 patients from Memorial, including patients from the intensive care unit, premature infants, critically ill patients who required dialysis, patients with DNR orders, and two 400-lb men who could not walk." It seems to be a good question.
Nonetheless, it seems less relevant in light of the prevailing uncertainty on that day. The "fog of war" argument here surely played a big part. It's hard to remember what it was like at that time, but no one knew the level of destruction, rumors of anarchy and violence spread and the basic civil and the communication infrastructure (electricity, water, telephones, radio, tvs, etc.) utterly failed. Left to their own devices, individuals made choices...with imperfect information: how much damage happened, when would aid arrive, how long would supplies last and so forth.
So let's play the mind experiment again: in a normal circumstance, would Dr. Pou have decided to make those life/death decisions? For all the ambiguity in this case, this question seems the least debatable. From all accounts, Dr. Pou was a respectable capitalistic physician, not an ethicist bent on advancing the end of life debate using the Katrina aftermath as a social experiment.
That being said, she was a physician inexperienced in and untrained for working in a disaster zone. She wasn't some physician volunteering for a Doctors Without Borders mission in some remote part of the world. She was simply a physician, left to wade the metaphorical murky ethical waters in her home town of New Orleans after a massive hurricane and did the best job she could.
Picture from flickr.com user georgiahealthplans