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Using Tirhas Habtegiris

Last Tuesday, Slate posted "Do the Poor Deserve Life Support? A woman who couldn't pay her bills is unplugged from her ventilator and dies. Is this wrong?" By Steven E. Landsburg. Economics prof Landsburg, who writes a regular economics column for Slate, has published several popular books on economics.

Tirhas Habtegiris, a 27-year-old terminal cancer patient at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas, was removed from her ventilator last month because she couldn't pay her medical bills. The hospital gave Ms. Habtegiris' family 10 days' notice, and then, with the bills still unpaid, withdrew her life support on the 11th day. It took Ms. Habtegiris about 15 minutes to die. (Read article.)

Note that this unplugging happened last month. Mid-December.


For now, I'll simply post this link.

This is another young gal who had cancer. See this scenerio at the link below. In both cases, the client/patient, nor their families had any say.

Both cases were in Texas.

What is the difference between these two stories?
What is the same about these two stories?

Is there a difference? Or is there a bigger picture we have not, as of yet, taken a look?

Feedback would be great to hear.




First of all I would like to note that I find it astonishing that in the limited coverage of the Habtegiris-case, nobody seems to care what the wishes of the patient were, focussing exclusively on the doctors' and the family's requests. As far as I'm concerned the ground rule in all end-of-life decisions is that you do not hasten someone's death if that person opposes it. I assume the concerning Texas law was meant to be used in cases where the patient was inable to express his/her will, which in this case does not seem to apply.

In the Wernecke-case the patient was a minor and thus not legally capable of making an informed decision about her treatment options (especially so in this case since she would certainly have been under a lot of pressure to adopt her father's view). In this situation treatment should be based on the best interest of the child. As I understand it, Katie originally had a 90% chance of recovery accepting the radiation, which would drop to 50% if she did not receive it, regardless of receiving vitamine C-treatment. This is really not a very hard choice to make.
Sometimes people believe what they want to believe and I suspect that's what happened when the Wernecke's decided to believe that their daughter could survive without the additional burdens of radiation, but as MD Anderson's doctors are not being trained in wishful thinking but in objective medicine, I support their position in this matter. It is very unfortunate that Katie had to fight this battle living in foster care, but in cases like this you only get to make a choice once and if that choice is between a 50% chance of survival or a 90% chance of survival I think she deserved the 90%. If she had gotten the right treatment from the start, she may have been away from her parents for a few months, but they would still have her for years to come.

I feel that in any decision to cease treatment the patient should be the prime decision maker and if that person is not competent to make a decision the best interest of the patient should prevail. This does not mean that doctors are always right or that families are always right, nor that 'pulling the plug' is a leftist or rightist issue, it's an issue of doing what is right.

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