Monday, September 12, 2005

The Emergency 'Emergency Official'

At a thread at Democratic Underground some readers have found reason to be suspicious of a story that is making the rounds across the World Wide Web.

In the Sunday edition of Britain's The Daily Mail there is an article entitled "We had to kill our patients" written by Caroline Graham and Jo Knowsley that claims that New Orleans doctors euthanized terminally ill patients with morphine "rather than leave them to die in agony as they evacuated hospitals."

While the story doesn't sound unreasonably suspect considering the horrors that have already been reported the last two weeks (though many of the incidents have been unconfirmed), only one source was specifically named by The Daily Mail to back up the story.

That source is named William Forest McQueen, who is referred to in this article as an "emergency official," "a utility manager for the town of Abita Springs," and someone "who worked closely with emergency teams."

Although The Daily Mail includes quotes from an unnamed New Orleans doctor and claims that her story was backed up by "a hospital orderly and by local government officials" the name of the hospital isn't provided and Mr. McQueen is the only source quoted on the record.

The Daily Mail quotes from Mr. McQueen:

"Those who had no chance of making it were given a lot of morphine and lain down in a dark place to die."

"They injected them, but nurses stayed with them until they died."

"They had to make unbearable decisions."

The Daily Mail also claims that the "utility manager for the town of Abita Springs" was the emergency "emergency official" selected to inform relatives that patients had been 'put down.'"

The reason provided by The Daily Mail for the secrecy:

"Euthanasia is illegal in Louisiana, and The Mail on Sunday is protecting the identities of the medical staff concerned to prevent them being made scapegoats for the events of last week."

"Their families believe their confessions are an indictment of the appalling failure of American authorities to help those in desperate need after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city, claiming thousands of lives and making 500,000 homeless."

Stephen White has two very similar articles - which don't even credit The Daily Mail - running on the Websites for the U.K. tabloids, Daily Record and The Mirror. Australia's The Daily Telegraph, a Rupert Murdoch tabloid, published an unbylined article entitled "Patients put down" that also neglected to credit The Daily Mail.

But this isn't the first time that William Forest McQueen's name has appeared in the tabloids.

Last week Suzanne McQueen of Maidstone, England left this frantic message on a "missing people" page at the BBC (link):

"I am looking for my husband who lives in Abita Springs and friends in Covington and Folsom, do you know what has happened in these areas please?"

On September 6th, BBC News published an article that spotlighted Suzanne McQueen's search for her husband along with a picture ("British families fear for US relatives"):

Here are a few highlights from the September 6th article concerning Mr. McQueen:

"Mother-of-two Suzanne McQueen, of Maidstone, Kent, is waiting for news of her American husband (William) Forest McQueen."

"He has been working in his home country since 1997, and lives and works with his brother in the Abita Springs area, north of Lake Pontchartrain, which is north of New Orleans."

"The couple married in the UK in 1991, and Suzanne said she and her daughters - aged 11 and 13 - were planning to move to the US to join her husband as soon as was possible."

"Part of his job there is to maintain the grounds of an old plantation house, she said."

"I phoned the morning the hurricane hit, and his brother said Forest hadn't been home for the last 24 hours because he'd been on shift clearing up trees and lines from all the wind damage that came before the hurricane. I haven't heard anything since."

The following day the BBC published another article about the family and televised an interview with Suzanne and her two daughters, but this time William Forest McQueen was referred to as her "estranged husband" ("Family's hope for hurricane dad").

The article included some new details:

"She said Mr McQueen was living on the North Shore which she thought was safe from flooding - until she saw pictures of Lake Pontchartrain Causeway which connects Abita Springs with New Orleans. "Even on the North Shore houses have been destroyed by the force of the wind rather than the flooding," she said. "Most people I know are in Louisiana. I can't call people in different states and ask them to try to contact him."

That same day The Telegraph picked up the story and added one other detail ("Nearly 100 Britons are still missing"):

"Mr McQueen, 43, had been working for the council in Abita Springs, where he has been living with his brother Stephen."

So to recap.

The only disclosed source for this story about euthanasia in Louisiana is an utility manager or emergency official or groundskeeper that may have been hired by the Abita Springs council who works and lives with his brother over a half-hour away from New Orleans where he is presently making phone calls to inform relatives that patients have been murdered with morphine instead of calling his family to let them know he survived.

As DUer ramblin_dave commented on the thread linked above, this article "may be disinfo."

Red Nova posted a story called "I Looked at Patients and Decided Who Was to Live and Who Was to Die" with quotes from a British nurse named Sharen Carriere who "chose to stay at the Memorial Medical Centre in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck, never imagining the horrors that would unfold before her."

Sharen Carriere was also featured at Britain's Spalding Today and The Sun also wrote her up in a side story with the lurid title: "Nurse Sharen: I fled sex squads."

From Red Nova:

"'I literally had to look at patients and make the choice about who would live and who would die. Some patients were so sick that I knew they would not make it. I had to go against everything I believe in and focus on saving those who could be saved. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.' Although she had to make heartbreaking decisions, she said she never witnessed any incidents of euthanasia that other New Orleans medical staff saw."

Oddly enough, Red Nova credits The Daily Mail for the story but they didn't write anything about Nurse Sharen, just the article about euthanasia in Louisiana according to William Forest McQueen.


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