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Euthanasia alleged at New Orleans hospital

Louisiana's attorney general has opened an investigation into every death at every New Orleans hospital during Katrina — 215 patients in all, after a doctor who worked at one of them alleged there was talk about euthanizing some of the frail patients. NBC's Carl Quintanilla reports.

On Aug. 31, Memorial Medical Center sat trapped in 10 feet of water.  There was no electricity or plumbing, as the hospital's CEO Rene Goux recalled on Sept. 9.

“We had about 160 seriously ill, bed-ridden patients left inside,” Goux said.

The patients were so sick — suffering from cancer and heart conditions — that one doctor alleges staffers discussed euthanizing them with injected drugs and that he saw a doctor holding syringes.

Dr. Bryant King told CNN one staffer talked about it directly with him.

“She said, ‘Well, you know, we talked about it, and this other doctor said she'd be willing to, she would be willing to do it.’ And I was like, ‘You're crazy!’”

King was a temporary hire at Memorial and had worked there for a month. He couldn't be reached for comment. The hospital denies his allegations.

Louisiana's attorney general is concerned enough that he has opened an investigation into every death at every New Orleans hospital during Katrina — 215 patients in all.

“We are looking into the allegations of euthanasia as well,” says Kris Wartelle, a spokeswoman from the Louisiana attorney general's office. “We have absolutely no confirmation on that at this time, although we are taking the reports very seriously.”

Identifying a criminal cause of death could be difficult, especially when there were so many other threats to survival.

“It was 105, 110 degrees,” remembers Dr. Glenn Casey, Memorial’s chairman of anesthesiology.

Casey denies any talk of euthanasia ever took place, saying, “It would have to go through me, because all those types of drugs pass through me and my department.”

“There was no way we were going to desert the patients and the staff that depend on us,” insists Memorial’s Dr. John Kokemore. “There's no way we were going to hasten anyone's demise.”

Kokemore was one of the last to evacuate Memorial and says any attempt to end a patient's life would have been hard to keep secret since most were surrounded by a brigade of volunteers.

“They actually had people, nurses and family members, all fanning patients,” says Memorial’s chief engineer Wayne Hill. “I mean, around the clock.”

Now there are also questions about King and his relationship with Memorial's management. At least one staffer tells NBC News King was seen in a heated argument with an administration official as the floodwaters rose — angry the hospital had stopped taking in neighbors from outside.

New Orleans' coroner has said his staff has examined all but XXXXX of Memorial's bodies and hasn't found a suspicious cause of death. But because the bodies were so decomposed, some doctors suspect any tests to determine the amount of drugs in their system may never be conclusive.