The $400,000 Magazine Story

by Hanna Rosin

That's how much Gerald Marzorati, editor of the New York Times magazine, says it cost to produce the 13,000 word piece running in this Sunday's issue, about the hospital in New Orleans that euthanized several patients during Hurricane Katrina (here is a preview online). The cost does not interest me. I'm thrilled to see any newspaper pouring its heart and its resources into long form narrative journalism, and in my view, this particular story is fantastic - deeply reported, humane, riveting and enlightening.

Here is what does worry me: The story is set up as an exploration of what happens when a certain kind of medical necessity or expediency butts up against serious human illness. You see where I'm going with this: Death panels. Like the circumcision debate, this is likely to be used as an example of what the Obama administration will do when they start to weigh whether it's worth saving sick, old people. Dr. Anna Pou, the story's ambiguous villain who may have authorized the injections, will be the stand in for Obama.

In case that happens, I here provide my preemptive rebuttal. This story shows the opposite of what would happen under government mandated health care reform. The reason the hospital staff got stuck having to make all these terrible decisions is because they were abandoned, and on their own. There were no established procedures, no regulations, no guidelines. There was just them, exhausted and overwhelmed, and a few dozen very ill patients unhooked from their respirators.

As one staff member said, "This was totally against every fiber in my body.” But “we were abandoned by the government, we were abandoned by Tenet, and clearly nobody was going to take care of these people in their dying moments.”