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FIRST-PERSON: ‘Good people’ can kill

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–When a New Orleans doctor and two nurses were charged with euthanizing several critically ill patients at Memorial Medical Center after Hurricane Katrina, a front-page headline here subsequently read: “Doctor’s colleagues rush to her defense,” while a local television station gave five minutes to Dr. Anna Pou’s sister and brother to defend her.

Supporters of Pou (pronounced “poe”), an ear-nose-throat doctor who specializes in cancer treatments, tell how she is so devoted to her patients that she gives each one her cell phone number. A doctor told The Times-Picayune how she was called in the middle of the night over the hemorrhaging of a patient. She rushed to the hospital and called in a battery of specialists who worked for hours doing intricate surgery to staunch the blood flow and repair the damage. “That’s just the kind of doctor she is,” they say; a devout Catholic, “one of the greatest doctors I’ve ever worked with” and “one of those rare people who has devoted her life to the care of her patients and the practice of medicine.”

Pou and the two nurses, Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, charged in mid-July with four counts of second-degree murder, had stayed at Memorial Medical Center after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The area around the hospital flooded, shutting down the electrical power, the hospital’s emergency generator and the sanitation system. Temperatures soared past 100 degrees inside the hospital. In all, 34 patients died during or just after the storm and 11 others subsequently died.

As conditions worsened in the hospital, according to the charges pressed by Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti Jr., Pou decided to put at least four people out of their misery by ordering that they be given lethal doses of painkillers.

Dr. Pou’s attorney says experts will be called to challenge these findings. A local attorney who called Pou’s office soon after her arrest to offer his services free of charge was told by the receptionists, “You’re the 10th caller,” the Times-Picayune reported. The attorney, Blase McCarthy, said, “I can’t imagine that she would hurt a fly.” A colleague of Pou’s, Dr. Isabel Ochsner, told the newspaper, “I’m so ashamed of what someone has put her through. For someone of her caliber to be wrongfully accused of killing is a sin.”

Among various letters to the editor, Jennifer Ramo of New Orleans wrote, “If Dr. Anna Maria Pou and the two nurses felt that they had to make a decision to let these poor people, who were on the brink of death, die without more pain and terror than they had already endured, they did so because they felt they had no other options. They did so because they had no hope that anyone was coming to rescue them…. They should not be arrested and prosecuted. My heart is broken for them and their families.”

As a minister of the Gospel, I find myself intrigued by the defenders of the accused using such rationales as “such a fine person, she could not do such a thing,” “a genuinely good person” and “devoted to her patients.” All of which I feel confident is true.

But there is a problem.

The best of us are still capable of doing wrong things. A loving mother breaks under heavy emotional stresses and drowns her children. A minister’s wife shoots her husband, then takes the children for a vacation. A pastor who has devoted decades to serving God and caring for people leaves his wife for another woman.

Spend a little time inside the penitentiaries of this land and you will meet some of the finest people on the planet. This convict was a minister, that one a loving grandmother, over there a fine father who was devoted to his children. But they got caught up in something — an addiction, a depression, something. When they loved their families and helped their neighbors, they were being true to themselves. They were not play-acting. When they started on that downward spiral of sinful acts that eventually sent them to prison, they were also being true to who they were. Because they are sinners.

I am; you are. “All have sinned,” the Scripture says. We are sinners by nature and sinners by choice. Heredity and environment, nature and nurture — cut it any way you please, it still comes up that there is a rottenness in the soul of all of us. A rebellion against God. A sickness of which self-centeredness is the heart and core.

A wonderful saint of the 1960s and ’70s, Marguerite Briscoe, a retired school principal and member of First Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., had a Christlikeness about her, a peace and love, an openness and a strength that you knew were the Lord’s doing. I would rather have had her praying for me than anyone I ever knew. I once said to her, “Marguerite, you are the finest Christian I know.” She smiled gently and said, “Oh, honey, if you just knew.”

I heard of a seminary professor who once was invited by a former student to come to his little west Texas town for a revival meeting. “While you are here,” the pastor said, “I want you to visit Mr. Crenshaw. He’s an older gentleman whom we’ve never been able to reach with the Gospel. The fact is, he’s such a highly principled man, he probably has higher standards than our people, and that’s been a hangup.”

The visiting professor assured the pastor he would be glad to talk with anyone he chose. The revival started on Sunday morning and that day at least four or five people told the professor about Mr. Crenshaw, emphasizing what high moral values he held. Two people said the same on Monday. That afternoon, the pastor decided it was time for that visit.

Mr. Crenshaw welcomed the pastor and visiting revival preacher in his home, and offered them glasses of iced tea. After some preliminary visiting, the young pastor said, “Mr. Crenshaw, I wanted my professor to meet you and to talk with you about the Lord. Now, Mr. Crenshaw, I know you are a good man. You have high standards and you probably outlive some of the members of our church….” Suddenly, the professor said, “Hold it!”

He looked across the table at his host and said, “You know, Crenshaw, ever since I’ve been in this little town of yours, I’ve been hearing people telling me what a good man you are. And I just want you to know I’m not buying it.” He paused, leaned forward, and said, “You know, sir, if you are a man like I’m a man … you’re as rotten as hell.”

Mr. Crenshaw smiled and said, “You’re right. I am.” What followed was a serious conversation about a Savior who welcomes sinners and has the power to forgive them and make them new persons. That day, Mr. Crenshaw came into the Kingdom of God through faith in Christ.

“There is none good, but God alone.” We have that authoritative word from the Lord Himself, spoken to a man whom we identify as the “rich young ruler” (in passages from Matthew, Mark and Luke).

Trouble is, we don’t believe it. Not really. Whether it’s naiveté on our part or simply ignorance of human nature or an unwillingness to believe Scripture, we endow certain dedicated and wonderful human beings in our spheres with attributes they do not possess. Our doctors could not euthanize an elderly patient. Yet doctors perform abortions by the millions every day. Parents are so dedicated, teachers are so self-giving, pastors are so godly. Yet some in these categories are arrested somewhere every day for abusing little children or embezzling funds or selling drugs.

And yet, I say to you that so many of these perpetrators were basically and humanly speaking, good people. Good people who did some truly horrendous things.

The tendency of most people is to read about them in the paper or see them on the news and conclude that they must have been a devil all along.

A woman who had spent time in a German concentration camp traveled to Israel for the trial of Adolf Eichmann during the 1970s. Eichmann had been responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews and others in these death factories. After decades of running, he had been caught and was on trial for his crimes. Later, the woman recounted what she experienced: “As Eichmann was brought into the courtroom, I began to cry. Looking at him there, I did not see a demon. He was not the devil incarnate. He was just a little man, ordinary in every way. That’s when it occurred to me that if such an ordinary little man could do such evil things, any of us is capable of anything. And that’s why I was crying. I was crying because I was seeing myself for the sinner that I am.”

In the “Superman Returns” movie, the man of steel reappears after an absence of several years to find Lois Lane receiving a Pulitzer for her column on “Why We Do Not Need Superman.” She tried to explain to him that man does not need a savior, that he has to work out his own problems. The rest of the movie is devoted to proving her wrong; the world goes from trouble to trouble, with Superman rushing from one disaster to another.

The movie leaves the audience in kind of a limbo or purgatory, with the world outside the theater facing mammoth problems on every side but without a caped hero to rush to its salvation.

Believers know there is indeed a Savior. Only one. Only Jesus.

A Savior is one who saves. Scanning Scripture, we are told that Christ saves us from sin (Matthew 1:21), from our enemies (Luke 1:71), from this generation (Acts 2:40), from wrath (Romans 5:9) and from death (James 5:20).

I can’t find where the Bible says Christ saves us from ourselves in so many words. But that may be the biggest need of all. Thank God He does.

I cannot say with certainty that Dr. Pou and the nurses killed anyone, but I can say they were capable, and so are we. The human heart is a wonderful and deceitful thing. It is to be honored, but not trusted (Jeremiah 17:9).

That’s why we need to love one another and pray for each other. What we must never do is expect ourselves or anyone else to be incapable of sin, even that of the worst sort.

We are in such need of a Savior.
Joe McKeever is director of missions of the Greater New Orleans Baptist Association and a cartoonist whose work is featured at BP Lighter Side.

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  • Joe McKeever