Doctors, desperate to provide appropriate care to dying patients with dwindling resources, resorted to injecting patients with lethal doses of morphine. Unable to evacuate the patients during the hurricane nor in the aftermath of the levee break when the hospital flooded, physicians and staff triaged the patients into three groups. "We divided patients into three categories - those who were traumatized but medically fit enough to survive, those who needed urgent care, and the dying." William "Forest" McQueen, an emergency official who spoke on the record, , told relatives that patients had been "put down," saying medical personnel "injected them, but nurses stayed with them until they died."
One doctor said, "I didn't know if I was doing the right thing. But I did not have time. I had to make snap decisions, under the most appalling circumstances, and I did what I thought was right. I injected morphine into those patients who were dying and in agony. If the first dose was not enough, I gave a double dose. And at night I prayed to God to have mercy on my soul.
"This was not murder. This was compassion. I had cancer patients who were in agony."
"It came down to giving people the basic human right to die with dignity," said the doctor. "You have to understand, these people were going to die anyway."
I will not pass judgment on the individuals who gave the euthanasia order or those who took part. However, it disturbs me that those charged with the saving of life can, in a matter of hours, choose to take life and justify the act by appealing the action to compassion, the right to die with dignity, and finally, they "were going to die anyway."
The choice for death is becoming increasingly preferable to that of life. Being "put down" is accepted as "death with dignity" and in terminology equating human life with that of out beloved pets. My parents never considered putting me down, just as we did not put down our dog or cat - we allowed our pets to live their lives to the end as nature decreed. Euthanizing without the patient's knowledge and consent is essentially murder, the extant situation being only a mitigating factor. In the early 20th Century, an entire philosophy of medical care was devoted to "life unworthy of life." The result was the Third Reich, the killing of the mentally retarded, physically handicapped, culminating in the murder of 5 million Jews and 1 million assorted others. The situation then was a mitigating factor that did not excuse the killing nor make it right. The circumstances in New Orleans is for us, the living rather, to discuss, debate, and decide.
Now, I'm not equating the New Orleans Physicians with Nazi Doctors. But, not so long ago, I would and did trust my life to the practitcioners of the healing arts. I was born with a broken body. My parents were told I would never walk, sit-up, and would never have anything resembling a normal life. Mine was a life unworthy of life and in an earlier time, a more logically barbaric time, I would have been terminated in an act of compassion, helped to die with dignity, and... well, I was going to die anyway.
Compassion and dignity had different meanings back then shortly after the end of WWII. Compassion and dignity had to do with life not death, any amount of money was expended in pursuit of the life possible. Defeat and surrender just were not acceptable. Trying was the rule of the day -- if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Today, I no longer trust physicians and nurses so freely with my life. At any moment in an emergency, a crisis, a doctor's bad hair day a patient may be "put down". When the situation is too difficult, the decision to end life in a dignified manner is so much easier and cheaper. It's all too hard -- life is to hard, trying is too hard, succeeding is too hard. Compassionate death and an apology are so much easier.
The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.