Monday, August 31, 2009

The Slippery slope

I read with great interest the story in the 30 August Sunday Magazine section of the New York Times  on the  tragedy at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans in the days following hurricane Katrina.
If the story is accurate , patients who would have been difficult to move or who had signed a " Do not Resuscitate Order" ( DNR) were euthanized by lethal injections on a grand scale.
The doctors involved justified it by saying the police told them if they were not out by 5 PM on that last day they would be left behind . And they wouldn't have survived anyhow.
There were clearly patients who were conscious and not ready to die  and those who had signed DNR orders as a statement, not because they were terminal.
Now the surgeon who administered the lethal doses of drugs is campaigning for laws that would exempt doctors from liability if they did these things under emergency conditions.
And, of course, the doctors were not indicted  even though euthanasia is illegal.  New Orleans politicians, it appears , had decided they had had enough bad  exposure.
I mention  this because it is an example of what can go wrong if you give doctors the right to judge who should live and who should die. I am a cancer doctor and know physicians who believe that patients who have metastatic cancer should be left to die anyhow, with dignity of course, but early. My worst nightmare has always been to wake up from a cancer operation and find one of these guys looking down on me. I would not have wanted to be a cancer patient at that  hospital after Katrina.
Giving doctors that power is a first step down a slippery slope, especially if we end up with a government run health care system and rationing.

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