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Sunday, September 11, 2005

New Orleans Doctors Killed Their Patients

The British newspaper, Daily Mail, reported today that some New Orleans doctors gave lethal doses of morphine to some of their patients during the recent evacuation due to hurricane Katrina.

Was this morally wrong?

See above for my response. Here and here.

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BillyHW said...

Yes, yes, Scott!

Let us do evil so that good may result. Let us do evil so that good may result!

BillyHW said...

Here's an alternative point of view:

Anonymous said...

You say that you are against euthanasia, but in this blog you approve of the very practice you are against.
What you describe as an "ethically responsible decision" IS none other than euthanasia. Your logic is flawed. "To give lethal doses of morphine" is to kill someone, not to comfort them for their remaining hours. It would have been morally responsible to provide comfort, not to kill. I hope that you will withdraw your blog of Sept 11.
Michael D. Henson
Trinity Lutheran Church, Pastor

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Yes, I knew this would be controversial. And I am willing to be rebuked and corrected. I am opposed to euthanasia and this blog has plenty of posts condemning what was done to Terri Schiavo. I devote regualar posts to pro-life issues. I was the president of our local Lutherans for Life chapter.

The reason I wrote what I did is not in order to do evil that good may result. But to do the lesser of two evils. Like I said, I was not comfortable writing this post. But the article suggested that these were patients who were dying, most of them within hours. They were not receiving treatment. I was assuming, perhaps wrongly, that the transport itself would create suffering and possibly kill them. The context was similar to a war zone.

I am willing to admit that I might be wrong. Still not certain. Some situations truly are unique and - at the moment I read the article - I could understand why the doctors did what they did. Maybe in more clear-headed moments I will think differently.

Thank you for the input.

Jerry said...

That the morphine hastened the deaths of patients is not necessarily problematic for a terminally-ill patient. Within Catholic bioethics, that's justifiable even in cases where the physicians are not under battlefield conditions. Giving a large drug dose in order to kill them, rather than to alleviate pain even upon the risk of hastening death, is quite different, though!

Killing them because they were "going to die anyway" (a well-worn excuse used by physicians in the German concentration camps, and by embryonic research advocates now) is taking medicine into a bad place, and what sort of excuse is that anyway? Everyone dies eventually, should we all just shoot ourselves? Did the physicians kill them (as opposed to heavily drugging them and risking an earlier death) because the physicians couldn't bear the sight of people in pain or didn't want to handle such sick people during the evacuation?

That's why we often euthanize pets, because their sufferings may affect us more than them Euthanasia claims to help the victim whereas in fact we are often catering to our unwillingness to face suffering.

Sure, physicians had to "shoot from the hip" in that they had to make snap decisions under appalling conditions. But this is a disaster that has already hurt many of the poorest people from the poorest states in America. To add physicians who knowingly kill the critically ill adds yet another crime against the poor and vulnerable.

FEMA may have a lot of answer for, but they never killed someone directly. If these physicians have, that's quite a burden.

That said, I have not been through the hell that these physicians went through, and I will be praying for them. They seem to recognize that what they did was not right, and I pray that they get proper counseling and set things right in whatever way they can. These crimes, however, are not merely between physician and patient, but undermine the integrity of a profession that helps us when we ourselves are most vulnerable, so I'm really allergic to any breaches of the maxim "do no harm".

Anonymous said...

A dying cancer patient who is already receiving morphine as a comfort measure is at a very terminal state. Each patient tolerates pain individually. If these patients were already receiving morphine to keep them comfortable it was not slowing down the progression of the cancer - it was merely palliative. To have no way to move them and to be in the midst of the crisis as described, left the Dr. with really only one ethical choice - to do no harm. Leaving them in agony would in my opinion be more harmful than humanely overmedicating them. But since I live in chronic pain I may be looking at this through biased eyes or perhaps walking in their shoes and trying to imagine being the patient - dying, in intractible pain and now to be left to die alone and possibly at the hands of looters and rapists - all because the evacuation plan was not working. Read the whole article and you will see the agony the Dr. is feeling.

New Curriculum at Concordia Theological Seminary