Human Exceptionalism

A New Futile Care Lawsuit: What the “Quality of Life Ethic” Hath Wrought

Texas is ground zero for Futile Care Theory because of its pernicious law that permits ethics committees to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment over patient/family objections. Readers of SHS will recall that when such a decision is rendered, families have a mere 10 days to find alternative care, which can lead to desperate situations, as I have reported on several occasions.

Now there is a new case of a teenage girl named Sabrina Murray whose sinus surgery went terribly wrong, leaving her comatose. From the story in the Houston Press (proving once again that the “alternative” newspapers are doing the best journalism today):

Within about three days of the second surgery, [mother Beatrice] Lopez says, doctors “started talking about our options. And we started getting scared, because the options were not good.”

Lopez and [step-father Brian] Murray say that doctors and hospital staff began pressuring them to withhold treatment and feeding, which would ultimately starve Sabrina to death. To the parents, this was unacceptable. They wanted their daughter to live. “I was very disappointed with the way Memorial Hermann handled things,” Lopez says. “They put it out on the table that we were being selfish.”

Murray and Lopez accuse the hospital staff, doctors and nurses of doing everything they could to try to end Sabrina’s life during the ensuing six weeks, including:

– Refusing to implement simple procedures such as giving Sabrina feeding and breathing tubes that would have enabled the parents to take their daughter home and care for her themselves,

– Attempting to turn relatives and friends against Lopez and Murray by encouraging them to persuade the parents to withhold treatment, all the while violating federal privacy laws by discussing Sabrina’s healthcare information,

– Entering two separate do-not-­resuscitate orders against her parents’ wishes, and

– Threatening the family with convening the hospital’s ethics committee, which under Texas law can overrule the family’s wishes and withhold life-support treatment from a patient.

“It was like we were caught in a bad dream,” says Murray. “We couldn’t believe this was happening.”

Happily–and rarely, since usually desperate families in Texas can’t get another hospital to take the patient–a new doctor and hospital was found with positive results:

As Lopez and Murray saw it, the hospital and physicians that caused their daughter’s condition were now trying to end her life. And it seemed like there was nothing they could do to stop it.

Terrified, Sabrina’s parents called the nonprofit organization Texas Right to Life, which referred Lopez and Murray to an attorney. The parents were able to transfer Sabrina to Texas Children’s Hospital, where Lopez says Martin received treatment that doctors at Memorial Hermann had refused to give, treatment that saved her life.

This is a long story but very important to read. Sabrina awakened and is now living with her disability and cared for by her parents. And while I can’t take a position about this particular case, I can say I hear from such desperate families on a continuing basis from all over the country. Futile care needs to be stopped.

Post Script: Last session, the Texas Legislature was unable to rescind the state’s futile care law–in part because of the wrongheaded opposition of the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops–which I wrote about critically here. Hopefully this case, if the facts are verified in court, will convince the bishops that allowing doctors and ethics committees to impose their ethical views on families is wrong.

More to follow…