Statement Regarding NPR Story on Katrina Hospital Killings from National Disability Group

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Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group, comments on a recent NPR story on the investigation into the killing of patients at a New Orleans hospital in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The NPR story makes it clear "compassion" and "mercy" had little to do with the motives in the alleged killings.

On February 16th, 2006, NPR revealed that it had access to "secret court documents" of the investigations of alleged killing of patients at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The NPR account tells a chilling story. But unfortunately, NPR and others in the media are still calling the alleged homicides "mercy killings."

The following is a statement by Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group, in response to the framing of these homicides as "merciful" acts:

The term mercy killing is a loaded one, a term that tends to generate sympathy for the killer. It's also generally used in those cases when the victim of a murder is old, ill or disabled.

Within days of Katrina striking New Orleans, rumors surfaced of "mercy killings" and euthanasia at one or more hospitals in the area. Apparently, these were more than just rumors -- the attorney general in Louisiana has been investigating the allegations, although little about the investigation has become public.

Until now.

On February 16, NPR aired a story on All Things Considered after reviewing secret court documents from the investigation. They make it clear that the allegations -- if true -- had little to do with compassion or mercy.

Briefly, the allegations revolve around a group of patients left on the seventh floor at Memorial Medical Center. This floor was leased to a different entity, LifeCare Hospitals. According to NPR, the patients on the seventh floor were all DNR patients -- they had "do not resuscitate" orders.

Life in the hospital was terrible. There was no power and no functioning plumbing. The temperature was about 100 degrees inside the hospital. There were looters hitting nearby buildings and people trying to get into the hospital itself. The staff who were required to stay with the soon-to-be-abandoned patients wanted to get out.

Here is an excerpt from the story:

"According to statements given to an investigator in the attorney general's office, LifeCare's pharmacy director, the director of physical medicine and an assistant administrator say they were told that the 'evacuation plan' for the seventh floor was to not leave any living patients behind, and that a lethal dose would be administered, according to their statements in court documents."

In other words, the only way the staff could evacuate was if they could report there were no more living patients to take care of. This was not about compassion or mercy. It was about throwing someone else over the side of the lifeboat in order to save themselves.

In fact, this doesn't look all that different from the abandonment of the 34 individuals in St. Rita's Nursing Home in Bernard Parrish. In that incident, 34 people drowned after they were abandoned by staff. Death by drowning is easy to prove and so the owners of the nursing home are charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide. It's unclear what will happen in the case of LifeCare medical staff. It's hard to prove morphine medication overdoses in badly decomposed bodies.

Admittedly, the hospital staff must have been exhausted and scared. We can never know how they rationalized their actions (providing the accounts given by NPR are true). But that doesn't make the alleged killings merciful -- and no one should refer to these killings using that term again. No one's calling the owners of St. Rita's merciful or caring. The same standard should apply to the LifeCare allegations.

For the read or hear the full story on NPR, go to:

Not Dead Yet is a national disability rights organization that leads the disability community's opposition to legalized assisted suicide, euthanasia and other forms of medical killing.

For more information, contact:

Stephen Drake, Diane Coleman

Not Dead Yet

7521 Madison St.

Forest Park, IL 60130



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