Coroners Probe Up to 100 Possible Post-Katrina Euthanasia Cases

Authorities investigating whether hospital and nursing home patients were put out of their misery during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are testing as many as 100 of the dead for lethal doses of morphine or other such drugs.

Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard said Friday that samples from 75 to 100 patients have been sent to a lab in Philadelphia for toxicology testing. He said the results have not come back yet and he does not know how long it will take.

At least 140 patients at New Orleans-area hospitals and nursing homes died during the storm and its aftermath.

The Louisiana attorney general's office is investigating six hospitals and 13 nursing homes, looking into whether patients were inadequately protected, abandoned or even euthanized to spare them from further suffering while waiting for rescuers to arrive.

"There's been plenty of movement because it's an active investigation, but there's nothing that we can talk about," said Kris Wartelle, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Charles Foti.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, the coroner in Pennsylvania and a leading forensic pathologist, spent about a week helping do autopsies in Louisiana in October. He said he worked on 30 bodies and found most of them in advanced stages of decomposition.

"There were only small cases where blood samples were available, so pieces of body tissue — brain, liver, kidney, skeletal muscle — were retained for toxicological studies," Wecht said Friday.

He said the tests should be able to show if drugs such as morphine were in a victim's system, how much was present, and whether it contributed to the death.