Tuesday, July 18, 2006
A Theocratic Two-Fer: AG asked if abortion doctors could face death and Medical Staff Charged with Murder for Katrina EuthanasiaGo go gadget theocracy! Story 1:
Doctors who perform banned abortions in Texas, such as those late in pregnancy or on minors whose parents have not given consent, could face capital murder charges and the death penalty because of recent changes in state law, a prosecutors group contends.
A Republican lawmaker from Dumas has asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to clarify the issue with a legal opinion.
"There is no evidence ... that the Legislature intended to bring such conduct within the scope of the criminal homicide statutes," state Rep. David Swinford, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, wrote in his request for the opinion.
At issue is a 2003 prenatal protection act that defines an unborn child as "an individual," giving it additional rights. Then last year, other changes to the law banned doctors from performing some abortions, such as those in a woman's third trimester, except in certain circumstances, or on a minor if the physician hadn't obtained the consent of a parent or a court order.
Texas law already made it legal to prosecute someone for capital murder in the killing of a child younger than 6.
The Texas District and County Attorneys Association interprets the changes as meaning that doctors who perform those abortions could face the death penalty.
"Since those are now prohibited medical practices, they are not lawful practices," said Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the group. "We don't write the law.
"The whole purpose of our interpretation is to explain what the law is."
Edmonds said he knows of no case in Texas in which the death penalty was sought for a doctor performing abortions.
Local lawmakers have mixed opinions about the situation.
"I don't think any legislator thought this would be the intent," said state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth. "But we do have unintended consequences more often than we'd like to admit.
"I opposed the legislation in the first place, because I don't think it's any of the government's business what a woman decides to do," he said. "If we did this by mistake, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it stands."
State Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said Republicans for years have tried to limit the rights of women.
"I wonder if this was just a step further in that direction, to limit their rights," Veasey said. "It's possible it may have been an unintended consequence. I'm not sure, though."
No matter what, state Rep. Charlie Geren said this isn't a controversy he is going to worry about.
"If they're performing illegal abortions, it's not a concern of mine what happens," said Geren, R-Fort Worth. "I don't think anyone should perform illegal abortions. If they do, they should face punishment.
"If Swinford has asked for an opinion about this, I don't think any of us should waste our time speculating about it."
Abbott has 180 days to issue an opinion, but his decision will not bind a court or prosecutor. Even so, Swinford said the decision will indicate what the intent of the law is.
Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, said his group advocated for the new Texas laws and asked Swinford to request the attorney general's opinion.
"When we were lobbying for all those laws, we were very clear that the penalty for physicians violating the law ... is either a Class A misdemeanor or a third-degree felony," said Pojman, of the statewide anti-abortion advocacy group. "It was not capital murder."
No matter what, the law needs to be clarified to avoid a chilling effect, said Peggy Romberg, director of the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, a statewide family planning advocacy group that supports abortion rights.
"Just the possibility that physicians could be charged with capital murder for making a [paperwork] mistake, ... that could result in physicians not providing care," Romberg said. "We already have situations where fewer doctors are willing to provide abortions because of harassment.
"It's important to clarify this," she said. "Let's make sure the punishment fits the crime."
Three charged with second-degree murder in Katrina hospital deaths
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- A doctor and two nurses were charged with second-degree murder Tuesday after Louisiana's attorney general launched an extensive investigation to uncover whether hospital staff euthanized some patients after Hurricane Katrina hit, a source close to the case told CNN.
Late Monday, Dr. Anna Pou, Lori L. Budo and Cheri Landry were arrested in connection with the alleged deliberate deaths of some patients at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center after Hurricane Katrina hit, a source close to the investigation told CNN.
The three were booked and released around midnight, jail officials said.
Further details of the arrests and investigation into the alleged deliberate deaths at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center are expected to be disclosed by Louisiana's attorney general Charles Foti, Jr. at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Foti has been investigating for months whether hospital and medical staff euthanized some patients. He is expected to outline what he thinks happened to some of the 45 Memorial Hospital patients who were found dead after the August hurricane evacuations.
"We obviously think it's a very credible ... we spent a lot of time, energy and manpower working on this case ... so we think it's a good case," Foti told CNN in February.
In October, CNN reported exclusively that after deteriorating conditions -- with food running low and no electricity -- some medical staff openly discussed whether patients should be euthanized.
Dr. Bryant King, a contract physician for Memorial who was working before and after the hurricane, said another doctor came to him and recounted a conversation the doctor claimed she had earlier with a hospital administrator.
According to King, the doctor said that the administrator suggested patients be put "out of their misery."
King said when he objected this physician acknowledged his concerns but said that "this other (third) doctor said she'd be willing to do it." King told CNN that he later that day saw one doctor holding a handful of syringes. He left, King said, because he believed the doctors would follow through with their suggestion of euthanasia. However, King never saw any wrongdoing occur.
Shortly after he began his investigation last year, Foti issued 73 subpoenas to hospital staff and physicians after he said the hospital owner, Tenet, was not cooperating in the investigation.
Since then tissue samples have been sent to a private East Coast lab to determine if fatal doses of medicine -- including the painkiller morphine -- were in the bodies of any of the dead, New Orleans Parish Coroner Frank Minyard told CNN in December.