By Calvin Palmer
A doctor’s frank admission that he drugged a terminal patient to “get rid of her faster” at a New Orleans hospital without power and surrounded by floodwater after Hurricane Katrina will not result in a reopening of the investigation into allegations of euthanasia.
Dr Ewing Cook said, in a report to be published on Sunday in The New York Times Magazine, “I gave her medicine so I could get rid of her faster, get the nurses off the floor. There’s no question I hastened her demise.”
Cook was a senior physician at Memorial Medical Center when the storm hit. As staff desperately tried to care for patients and make spot assessments of those who might survive, he scribbled “pronounced dead at” on the patient’s chart, intending to fill in time and other details later.
He said state investigators who previously looked into the Memorial deaths never interviewed him.
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said today he would not reopen the investigation launched by his predecessor, Charles Foti. A doctor and two nurses were arrested on charges of second-degree homicide but a grand jury declined to indict them.
Caldwell said that any new charges would be up to New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
“If new evidence comes forward we would consider it,” Cannizzaro said. “But the crux of the matter is intent. To prove murder we must be able to prove intent.”
The hospital lost power and was surrounded by floodwater for days following the storm on August 29, 2005 storm. Temperatures inside soared above 100 degrees, and 34 patients died. Medical examiners concluded many of them would have died regardless of the hospital staff’s actions.
Cook defended his decision to increase the morphine drip to Jannie Burgess, 79, who was dying of uterine cancer and kidney failure.
“It was hot, over 100 degrees, four nurses were trapped on the floor caring for her, and we could not get her down,” he said.
If the hurricane had not hit, Cook said the dosage still might have been increased.
“People who get the drugs we are talking about frequently build up a tolerance, so you have to increase the dose,” he said. “But when you do that every doctor knows what will happen.”
Cancer surgeon Anna Pou and the nurses have denied Foti’s allegations that they killed patients with overdoses of a “lethal cocktail” of sedative-painkiller mix.
“It’s not something that was mixed up on the spot,” Cook said. “It’s always given with the intent of providing ease. The nagging side effect is that it shortens life, but you’re talking about people who are terminally ill already. They are not going to get better.”
Loyola University law professor Dane Ciolino said a doctor’s intent when administering the drug would be a key factor in determining whether the act was criminal.
“It becomes murder if specific intent was to kill,” Ciolino said. “If the drug was administered to ease pain and death is a side effect, it’s is not murder.”
[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]