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May 01, 2006 | Read comments | Post a comment

Andrea Clark and Texas futile care

Update May 8 -- Andrea Clark has died. Read statement from her sister here.

Update May 2 -- St. Luke's hospital agrees to keep Clark on life-support -- for now. More from Wesley Smith here.

Most people today would not call the kind of thing that is happening to Andrea Clark "disablism." Most people have never even heard the word -- or if they have, they consider it only something made up by the PC crowd. In Britain, it seems, "disablism" is taken quite seriously. Perhaps not yet on a par with sexism or racism, but up there. In short, it means bigotry against disabled people.

Today many many disability bloggers, Yours Truly among them, will be "Blogging Against Disablism." I consider that what's happening to Clark -- and to others like her that don't generate even the small amount ofnews she has -- to be disablism in its ultimate form. We may return to that point later today. For now, take a look at this story from Sunday's Houston Chronicle:

. . . St. Luke's officials said that they will not carry out their previous plan to discontinue Andrea Clark's life-sustaining treatment on Sunday, which will be 10 days after the hospital notified her family it was invoking Texas' futile-care law.

The law allows hospitals to halt medical care in cases it deems hopeless.

Hospital officials would not say how they will proceed with the case, which has ignited passions on Internet message boards and drawn harsh criticism of the law and St. Luke's position.

"I'm so exhausted, I don't know what to think now," said Lanore Dixon, Clark's sister, who has led a campaign to stop the hospital. . . .

Bloggers have been covering the story of St. Luke's plan to take Clark off "life support" for over a week -- from the day Dixon posted an entry on the Democratic Underground blog: KILLING MY SISTER - WE ARE PROTESTING - HELP US. That certainly got bloggers' attention. In that initial post, Dixon wrote,

The hospital ethics committee met the day before yesterday and concluded that Andrea's treatment (respirator and dialysis) should be discontinued. We have ten days to move her from that hospital or they will "pull the plug" and let Andrea die. Andrea, until a few days ago, when the physicians decided to increase her pain medication and anesthetize her into unconsciousness, was fully able to make her own medical decisions and had decided that she wanted life saving treatment until she dies naturally. We have learned that this is part of the process, when hospitals decided to declare the "medical futility" of continueing treatment for a patient. But, this is not a Terry Schiavo case; not anything like it. Andrea, when she is not medicated into unconsciousness (and even when she is, and the medication has worn off to some degree) is aware and cognizant. She has suffered no brain damage to the parts of her brain responsible for thought and reason, or speech. She has only suffered loss of some motor control. The reason that the physician gave to medicate her so much is that she is suffering from intractable pain in the sacral region (in other words, she has a bedsore that causes her pain). This is not reason enough, in our books, and we are trying, as we speak, to get Andrea's medication lowered so that she can speak to us.

Since then there's been lots of discussion -- but mostly all in the blogosphere. Sunday's front-page Houston Chronicle story signals the first time the story has been "legitimized" by the mainstream print media.

People like Wesley Smith have been warning us about "futile care policies" for a long time.

This has come up before. Some of you may recall that back when Terri Schiavo was being starved, progressives were talking about the case of an infant boy at a Texas hospital -- Sun Hudson, who ultimately died; and a few months ago I blogged about Tirhas Hatbegiris, also in a Texas hospital, also "allowed to die" based on the "futile care policies" in place in Texas hospitals.

Besides Smith's explanations, a good overview of what goes on in these Texas cases can be found here on the HealthLaw Prof Blog, in a post by Thomas Mayo, an attorney and law professor whose profile tells us that "he is a member of the Texas Advance Directives Coalition, which was responsible for drafting the 1999 Advance Directives Act and its 2003 amendments. He currently serves on five hospital ethics committees. . . "

Dixon is telling folks that there will be a meeting Tuesday in which the doctor who wants to continue treating Clark will try to persuade the hospital to support that effort. Dixon believes that calls and letters to the hospital will help.

You can help:

Call 832-355-1000 -- the operator will transfer you to public relations, which is fine. Register your opinion.

And/or write: Dr. David Pate, Hospital Administrator St. Luke's Memorial Hospital 6720 Bertner Ave. Houston, TX 77030-2604.

Posted by mjohnson on May 1, 2006 06:04 PM


There is also an email address for St. Luke's, it is: generalinformation@sleh.com

And another address to reach Dr. Pate, which is:

Po Box 20269,
Houston, Texas (TX)

Hopefully this info will help in the quest.

Posted by: Matt on May 1, 2006 11:05 AM

"But, this is not a Terry Schiavo case; not anything like it." -- anything it takes to assure Democrats that this is not a "right to life" case? Heaven forbid we cite the sanctity of human life as our cause; better make it about administration and money.

Okay, okay -- lemme do some more research and work on a letter. I'm just saying. *Sigh*

Posted by: Evonne on May 1, 2006 11:57 AM

I think there are a number of reasons the "futility" policies have progressed with little opposition.

First and foremost, both the right and the left have a knee-jerk deference to medical authority unless someone in power has framed the issue in a way that interrupts the knee-jerk response.

Second, I'm afraid that "futility" actually appeals to the uglier sides of both the right and the left. These policies resonate with those on the left who are comfortable in labelling some lives as worth more than others. They also resonate with those on the right who care much more about seeing government spending reduced by any means necessary - and it's easy to ignore the cost to the individuals whose lives are threatened or ended in the healthcare system.

Posted by: Stephen Drake on May 1, 2006 01:42 PM

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