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Murky waters: A look at Memorial Medical Center after Hurricane Katrina

nyt-cover.jpgFour years after Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area, Stanford medical school alum Sheri Fink, MD, is publishing a disturbing investigation into whether patients at one hospital were euthanized.

"The deadly choices at Memorial" will appear in the Aug. 30 issue of the New York Times Magazine. It was written by Fink, who is now a reporter at ProPublica, a nonprofit organization devoted to investigative journalism.

Fink is an old hand at probing the delivery of medicine under extreme circumstances. In 2003, she published the book, War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival, describing the conditions faced by physicians involved in the Bosnian war. You can read more about Fink in this profile we published in Stanford Medicine magazine in 2004.

For the Katrina piece, Fink spent two years gathering accounts from nurses, doctors and others who were at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the days immediately after the hurricane. What emerges is a gruesome account of doctors with little experience in triage deciding to evacuate the sickest patients last. When it became clear that evacuation options were dwindling, according to the people Fink interviewed, many of those sickly patients received fatal injections of either morphine or another powerful sedative.

Because the story was posted by the Times' Web site in advance of its print publication, readers are already weighing in. Some of them are appalled at the medical professionals' actions; others say the doctors and nurses were heroes left with few choices in the most dire of circumstances.

NYT Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati says he published the story in part because "ours is a world not immune to pandemics and terrorist attacks or natural disasters. The issues surrounding medical care in such dire situations require a public conversation our country has yet to really have."

Let the conversation begin.

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