Human Exceptionalism

Medical Futility On the March

For years I have been warning that bioethicists are getting their ducks in a row to permit them to refuse wanted life sustaining treatment that is removed because it keeps the patient alive, not because it doesn’t provide medical benefit. These are value judgments, not medical determinations.

And now they are beginning to come. I commented about a futile care case in Michigan a few days ago, and here’s another. I don’t know enough about the facts of this case to opine completely, but this sure seems to be a futile care case in action. St. Luke’s Hospital in Houston is going to unilaterally remove a woman from life support, even though her family wants her to continue to receive care. (It is as if Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers wanted Terri’s care continued but the hospital said no.)

Note that the treatment is apparently being removed because it works, not because it doesn’t–which means, in effect, that the hospital ethics committee has declared the patient’s life to be futile.

Texas has a terrible law that permits an unelected, self-appointed, anonymous ethics committee to forcibly remove care. Once that happens, the patient has 10 days to find another hospital. These are closed proceedings. I am unaware of any records kept of the evidence presented at the hearings or the deliberations.

These are life and death decisions and it seems to me that there may be a significant constitutional issue here of immense importance. A law permits private decision-making that will result in death without even the right to a public hearing, to cross examine witnesses, or a formal appeal. Someday, someone is going to attack this statute and its constitutional implementation frontally in federal court. I have already urged some attorneys in private that they do just that. Let us hope that fairness and simple justice prevail.