Jun 222014

memorialWhen Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and tens of thousands of residents were trapped in a city without electricity, water, sewage, law, government, shelter or near-term prospects for rescue, hospitals were among the hardest hit.  Medical staff worked around the clock to care for patients without working ventilators, regulated IV drips, air conditioning, sterilized equipment, or working toilets.  Exhausted doctors needed to make new triage lists daily, not only making life and death decisions regarding whom to treat, but also which patients were most likely to survive evacuation lifts when they did arrive.  Should the terminally ill be evacuated first or last?  Should those closest to dying be rushed to the front of the line when a helicopter arrived or could a doctor make a judgement that death was likely in any case and give the space to someone whose future looked more promising?  Promising in what way?  Most likely to live?  Greatest number of dependents?  The brightest outlook for high quality of life?  Determined how?  Among the hospitals swamped by Katrina was Memorial where after five days of chaos a doctor and two nurses were accused of euthanizing patients.  While Sheri Fink does a fine job of raising ethical issues about end-of-life decisions, her book is tedious.  The first half describes the lives of the entrapped and the second covers the indictment and trial and every tiny piece of evidence against the accused doctor.  Alas, most of the evidence has been covered in the first half of the book and reading about it for a second and third time in legalese does nothing to enhance its power.

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