Skip to comments.Slippery Slopes ["futile care theory," tie to ECUSA]
Posted on 04/29/2006 5:01:22 PM PDT by sionnsar
Welcome to the future:
The bioethics committee at St. Lukes Hospital in Houston, Texas has decreed that Andrea Clarke should die. Indeed, after a closed-door hearing, it ordered all further medical efforts to sustain her life while at St. Lukes to cease. As a consequence, Clarkes life support, required because of a heart condition and bleeding on the brain, is to be removed unilaterally even though she is not unconscious and her family wants treatment to continue.
Andrea Clarke may become an early victim of one of the biggest agendas in bioethics: Futile-care theory, a.k.a., medical futility. The idea behind futile-care theory goes something like this: In order to honor personal autonomy, if a patient refuses life-sustaining treatment, that wish is sacrosanct. But if a patient signed an advance medical directive instructing care to continue indeed, even if the patient can communicate that he or she wants life-sustaining treatment it can be withheld anyway if the doctors and/or the ethics committee believes that the quality of the patients life renders it not worth living.
Contrary to how it sounds, medical futility is not a matter of refusing treatment that will not provide the medical benefit the patient seeks. Refusals of requests for such "physiologically futile care" would be proper and professional. For example, if a patient demanded that a doctor provide chemotherapy for an ulcer, the doctor should refuse, since chemo will do nothing to treat the ulcer.
But Clarkes case involves value judgments rather than medical determinations. In such "qualitative futility" cases, treatment is stopped in spite of a patients or familys objections the intervention is necessary not because the treatment doesnt work, but because it does. In essence then, it is the patients life that is deemed futile and, hence, not worthy of being preserved.
We should also note that the Clarke controversy isnt anything like the Terri Schiavo case. Schiavos tube-supplied food and fluids were ordered withdrawn (supposedly) to carry out her wishes. But Clarke apparently wants to live and her family all agree that she should continue to be sustained. In other words, it is as if Michael Schiavo and Terris parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, agreed to maintain Terris feeding tube but a hospital ethics committee overruled their decisions and doctors removed the tube anyway.
Hospitals around the country nobody knows how many have been quietly promulgating internal rules to permit patients like Andrea Clarke to be denied wanted treatment to maintain their lives. But the legality of internal ethics committees acting as quasi courts to order unilateral treatment refusal remains uncertain in most states.
Texas, however, has become ground zero for futile-care theory thanks to a draconian state law passed in 1999 of dubious constitutionality, some believe that explicitly permits a hospital ethics committee to refuse wanted life-sustaining care. Under the Texas Health and Safety Code, if the physician disagrees with a patients decision to receive treatment, he or she can take it to the hospital ethics committee. A committee hearing is then scheduled, all interested parties explain their positions, and the members deliberate in private.
If the committee decides to refuse treatment, the patient and family receive a written notice. At that point, the patient/family has a mere ten days to find another hospital willing to provide the care, after which, according to the statute, "the physician and health care facility are not obligated to provide life-sustaining treatment."
Since the patients threatened with death by ethics committee are often the most expensive to care for, it will often be difficult for families to find other institutions willing to accept a transfer. But the futility deck may be especially stacked against Houston patients. Many city hospitals participate in the "Houston City-Wide Guidelines on Medical Futility," raising the suspicion that participating hospitals will not contradict each others futility decrees.
If so, this would mean that patients seeking refuge from forced treatment termination will have to be transported to distant cities, as has already occurred in a few futile-care cases, perhaps even out of state. Illustrating the level of hardball some hospitals play against patients and families, the Clarke familys lawyer Jerri Ward told me that St. Lukes agreed to pay the $14,806 transportation costs to transfer Clarke to a hospital in Illinois more than 1,000 miles away if the decision to transfer is made on Thursday (4/27). If the family doesnt decide until Friday, the hospital will pay only one-half of the cost of transportation. Thereafter, it would pay nothing.
Cases like Andrea Clarkes could not be more important. If the principle is ever established that doctors, hospitals, and faceless ethics committees can dictate who can live and who must die, the already weakening faith of the American people in their health-care system will be seriously undermined and the door will be thrown wide-open to medical decision-making based on discriminatory hierarchies of human worth. As German physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland wrote presciently in 1806, "It is not up to [the doctor] whether . . . life is happy or unhappy, worthwhile or not, and should he incorporate these perspectives into his trade . . . the doctor could well become the most dangerous person in the state."
Fortunately Ms. Clarke will be moved to a facility in Chicago.
My family has made the decision to move our sister to the hospital in Chicago. Thank God there is someone willing to take her. And, really, it is best to get her out of Texas, because of the futile care law here.
St. Lukes played hardball with us on this issue. We were told that we could make the decision today and they would pay the entire amount of $14 thousand to move her, but if we made the decision tomorrow, they would only pay half of it, and if it were the day after tomorrow, they would pay nothing.
As you know, Im a Democrat, but one that is against abortion. I agree with the Republicans on that issue, at least. After this experience, though, I have to tell you: I am in absolute awe of the power that the right to life people generate. I, of course, first posted on Democratic Underground, and I have to give them some credit: they let my post stand against the rules about posting something like this under the wrong topic. They also let it stand, even though it had peoples (my sisters and mine) personal numbers in it. And, of course, some people there forwarded it to other blogs. And everyone there was very supportive in their comments, as well.
But the pro-life people stepped forward and just absolutely ground St. Lukes into submission on this issue. You have, without a doubt, saved my sisters life. I want you to know that. Without the pro-life/right to life people stepping in from the very first of this fight for Andrea, we would have lost. I have never in my life seen such a centered, focused and energized group of people.
For what it's worth, St. Luke's is an Episcopal hospital in case you'd like to contact ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and ask him about this case. And I guess it's fortunate that President Bush isn't running again since the Texas law described above was passed when he was the governor of that state.
Very interesting about DU, and I'm glad these folks got some help.
We have just about reached (or returned to) the bottom of the slippery slope. This precise argument was advanced by an eminent jurist and illustrious psychiatrist, Hoch and Binding, in a landmark work about 80 years ago, elucidating the concept of "life unworthy of life"(Leben unwertes Lebens). Their treatise formed the legal and ethical basis for the Nazi Holocaust.
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