Dr. Anna Pou
On August 29, 2005 Dr. Anna Pou an oncology surgeon, was at work at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina hit hard and flooded the lower level of the hospital, generators were utilized and food and water were available although limited. By Tuesday, August 30th the water rose, knocked out the generators and caused the hospital to be in total darkness. The temperature rose to 110°, the toilets backed up and the smell was rancid, burning the nostrils of the workers and the 200 patients that were still in the hospital. Seven medical personnel stayed with patients, others were on the roof coordinating rescue efforts with the few boats and helicopters that showed up.
Under the military’s orders, the staff did reverse triage. The healthiest patients were rescued first in order to save the greatest number of people. What seemed evil was a utilitarian ethical move, numbers ...view middle of the document...
A decision was made to sedate some of the level 3 patients with morphine and midazolam to ease their anxiety, as they (the patients) knew they had to wait longer to be evacuated.
After four days the hospital was empty of all surviving patients and staff. Forty five decomposing bodies were found in the hospital, more than at any other comparable hospital.
Dr. Pou was one of the last to leave the hospital and went home to Baton Rouge where she was later arrested and booked on four counts of second-degree murder. She along with two nurses was accused of using a lethal cocktail of medication to kill four elderly patients. Dr. Pou denied killing any patients; she did admit that patients were sedated with morphine. After an investigation she was not indicted, but had civil suits brought against her.
In 2003 The Health Emergency Powers Act that Louisiana was passed which provided immunity for physicians working in emergency situations. The act states that, “during a state of public health emergency, any health care providers shall not be civilly liable for causing the death of, or injury to, any person… except in the event of gross negligence or willful misconduct”. “Gross negligence” has been defined as the “want of even slight care and diligence” and the “want of the diligence which even careless men are accustomed to exercise”.
Given the circumstances that the physician and nurses found themselves in, one has to question how many others would have stayed to care for critically ill patients. Having taken the Hippocratic Oath for physicians and the Nightingale pledge for nurses to care for patients and cause no harm, and having had an unmarked career to that point, I believe this decision was done with mercy and compassion for those suffering under conditions none of us can understand lest we were there. I would have wanted the suffering to end for my loved one, not knowing how much longer they would have had to stay in deplorable conditions. I commend this physician who has to live with her decision and conscious and who I believe made that choice with her patient’s best interest at heart.