Here is an interesting article about Dr. Pou, who lived and worked in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. You probably heard about this case already.
I am not going to pass any moral judgement on her handling of her patients in a time of extreme crisis (or maybe I am but I'm just going to couch it in sarcasm). I'm sure they were in horrible pain and probably would have died miserable deaths. I'm also sure that the patients and their families are grateful for Pou's treatment and the medical decisions that she made. I'm sure that I would want her to do the same for me if I were elderly, terminally sick, and stuck in a powered down hospital during a natural disaster while the government sat around patting each other on the backs. I'm sure that I am completely OK with the decision to not prosecute her or the handful of nurses who worked under her.
That said, I'm also sure that she, according to medical law, is guilty of four counts of homicide.
As a country we feel incredibly guilty about Hurricane Katrina. We are angry at the government (particularly FEMA) for not doing more to help the people of Louisiana both before and after the disaster. We are saddened by the destruction of a large and romanticized city. We are horrified at the continued conditions of New Orleans and the surrounding areas.
The disaster highlights disparities in our treatment of people based on race and class. We north-easterners get to face our ugly regional prejudices. You know this already.
You also know about our good buddy Dr. Kevorkian who has become a medical pariah for doing what Dr. Pou did (though under much less duress) and the case of Terri Schiavo who had all sorts of people who never even met her alternatively crying and breathing fire over her assisted suicide (or pick your favorite term). Why do we hate the doctors of these two cases and want to love and protect a "Katrina Doctor"? The law isn't supposed to take situation into nearly that much consideration. All three are cases of doctors killing patients (or helping patients die with dignity, or pick your favorite phrase).
We can't have it both ways because we feel guilty as a country. If the medical community wants to say that Pou was acting responsibly in the best interest of her patients and the American public wants to look on her as a martyr for the cause of human compassion, maybe we should rethink our medical laws. Maybe many of us think that doctor assisted suicide isn't a crime. Maybe the law should reflect public opinion. If the law is supposed to be consistently applied to all cases it should be a law that can be consistently applied to all cases, even when we feel guilty (Pou) or the doctor is creepy and funny looking (Kevorkian), or we saw our favorite talk show host get all blubbery and emotional (Schiavo).
We either need to look past our guilty consciences or change the law. Just pick one.