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Published: Wednesday, 8/1/2007

Misguided prosecution

ONE of the sadder chapters in the heart-rending saga of Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans is finally over with a clear-eyed grand jury refusing to indict a physician accused of murdering nine elderly patients who died in a city hospital isolated in the 2005 storm.

The case was originally brought in headline-grabbing fashion by Louisiana's hot-dog attorney general, Charles Foti, who apparently felt it might earn him some political points. But Eddie Jordan, the local district attorney who had to actually prosecute, said the grand jury's no-bill was "the right thing. They concluded no crime had been committed."

Indeed, Dr. Anna Pou, a head and neck surgeon who stayed behind to help patients at Memorial Medical Center when others had fled, should never have been arrested, much less charged with a crime.

She and two nurses initially charged with her were backed up by officials of the Louisiana State Medical Society and the American Medical Association. But the attorney general called it murder, insisting without any firsthand evidence that the patients, aged 60 to 90, had been coldly killed with injections of painkillers and sedatives.

Here's what really happened, as described by Dr. Pou in a television interview four months after the disaster: "There were some patients there who were critically ill who, regardless of the storm, had the orders of 'do not resuscitate.' In other words, if they died, to allow them to die naturally and to not use heroic methods to resuscitate them.

"We all did everything in our power to give the best treatment that we could to the patients to make them comfortable."

That sounds like sensible, compassionate care, hardly a criminal act.

The nine were among 34 patients who died at Memorial Medical, which was without electric power and surrounded by 15 feet of floodwater. The facility, which treated primarily poor people, wasn't evacuated for four days, typical of the ineffectual emergency response to the storm by local, state, and federal authorities.

We're inclined to agree with Dr. Pou's attorney, who said that the death certificates of the nine should read "abandoned by their government."

As the whole world knows, that was the case with many victims of Katrina, a sad example of official nonfeasance.



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