[Ed. note – Questions of life and death in this article–a fully conscious, though terminally ill, patient wanted to live and was supported in this desire by his family…yet a hospital “medical ethics committee” made the decision to pull the plug on his life support. The man happened to be uninsured. The medical facility is a “Christian” hospital. H/T to Edu Cultura ]
On December 23, 2015, a forty-six-year-old man named Chris Dunn died of complications from presumed (though unconfirmed) pancreatic cancer. In a few short months, illness ravaged this ex-sheriff’s deputy, his stout physique shriveling to skin on bones. In his final weeks, a breathing tube and ventilator were all that separated him from death.
I have no doubt that his physicians at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, did everything within reason to devise a cure and, when that was deemed impossible, to provide pain relief and comfort care. It is worth noting that Dunn was uninsured. Thus, the hospital and physicians may have provided his treatment without compensation. So where is the controversy in this tragic story?
Under Texas law (the Texas Advance Directives Act of 1999), a hospital medical ethics committee can override a patient’s or a family’s wish for continued life-sustaining care. Note the term “life-sustaining.” This case was not about unusually aggressive treatment done in a futile effort to achieve a cure. This was about providing the care necessary to sustain the life of this terminally ill patient until he inevitably died. In this instance, the essential elements of that care were a feeding tube and a ventilator (i.e., breathing apparatus).
There are circumstances in which the Texas law would serve a justifiable purpose. For example, if a patient has suffered irreversible total brain death and advanced medical equipment is the only reason blood continues to circulate through an otherwise deceased body, withdrawing medical support is justified under virtually any moral code.
But none of that applied in this case. As this video reveals, Chris Dunn was fully awake, cognizant (though unable to speak because of the breathing tube in his throat), and literally begging to live when the hospital ethics committee convened to decide his fate.