Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Constant Gardener Visits New Orleans

There were two surprisingly confluent events last night:

I finally watched “The Constant Gardener.” I had heard it would “be good for me” but had hesitated to watch it, as I am often haunted by strong imagery. Also, thoughtful, provacative movies don’t often come to theaters in Cumberland. Netflix does, however.

Earlier in the day, I heard the disturbing news that the witchunt in the New Orleans murder trial of 3 healthcare workers for Katrina-related deaths has taken a new twist. The 2 nurses, Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, have been offered immunity by the grand jury in order to elicit further information from them. Presumably, this information would be used to bolster the case against Dr. Anna Pou.

There are striking analogies between the two stories. In the first, you have young, idealistic, Tessa who tries to help the poor in Kenya and is brutally murdered by Big Pharma in order to protect their financial interests. Her husband, Justin, has been shielded in his garden, which he painstakingly tends and tries to make orderly and serene. When she is murdered, he leaves his tidy shelter and is immersed in the squalor of the Nairobi slums and the web of lies and coverups others use to protect their interests. The bad guys are tenacious and ruthless, stopping at nothing to try to dissuade Justin from exposing dangerous drug trials conducted on the helpless poor, who had no alternatives to participation.

Fade from Nairobi to New Orleans. In July, 2006, Dr. Pou and the two nurses were irresponsibly accused of murder by Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti, arrested and charged with homicide for the deaths of several patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In February, 2007, toxicology reports from Orleans parish coroner, Frank Minyard, failed to show lethal amounts of medication in the patients' bodies. Despite this lack of evidence, a grand jury has been called to weigh the murder charges against the healthcare workers. According to CNN, Assistant District Attorney Michael Morales said, "There is no legal bar in going forward with a homicide prosecution just because a coroner has not classified it as a homicide."

And now the witch hunt continues. Perhaps I'm cynical, but granting immunity to the nurses to compel them to testify before the grand jury sounds to me like a prelude to coerced testimony against Dr. Pou, made up in order to end their own nightmares. Who wouldn’t bow to such pressure?

In both of these settings, you have idealistic young white women risking their lives to help the poor, primarily black, populace. In the movie, Big Pharma was the villain. In New Orleans, the villain is our own government, trying vainly to divert attention from itself and its monstrous failures in dealing with Hurricane Katrina by shifting all attention to the easy target of these three women.

These fine health care workers have had their careers needlessly destroyed and endured incredible and unnecessary stress, when they should have been regaled as heroes for staying and caring for their patients. The government should be on trial for their abysmal failures in planning and response to an anticipated natural disaster.

There is a growing abyss between the haves and have-nots in this country—as the contrast between the lovely walled courtyard gardens of the Vieux Carre, and the lower 9th ward. This economic and class divide makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be safer to work with the poor overseas than in our own neglected slums with our increasingly morally corrupt government.

From my own garden retreat, I wonder, “Who will foolishly stay and help come the next disaster? Will I have the courage to do what Dr. Pou and her colleagues did, risking their lives to help others?”


Please support Dr. Pou, Ms. Landry and Ms. Budo. If you would like to help or receive more updates, please check Dr. Pou's new website.