A "futile care" law in Texas has come under fire from anti- euthanasia activists after doctors allegedly gave up on a 54-year- old woman who was being kept alive with the help of a respirator and a dialysis machine.
On April 19, an ethics committee at St Luke’s Episcopal Hospital gave the family of Andrea Clark 10 days to find another facility or doctor to treat her. If nothing was done, under a 1999 law signed by George W. Bush, who was then governor, her life support would be removed because further treatment would be deemed medically futile.
Ms Clark, a widow with a 23-year-old son, was an early success in the first "blue baby" heart operations, but she has had poor health for most of her life. Her current crisis began in November and her condition deteriorated in January after open-heart surgery. In recent days, another doctor has taken on her case and she appears to have improved.
She has left no advanced directive, but her family says that she has expressed a clear desire to live. They were outraged at the hospital’s move. Online forums and blogs galvanised public protest and the hospital was flooded with angry callers. "The real story is a law that allows physicians and ethics committees to make life-and-death decisions based on what they perceive a patient’s quality of life to be," said Mrs Clark’s lawyer. "It’s unfortunate Texas has become ground-zero for this futile-care movement."
The Clark case is just one of several controversial applications of the futile-care law. "One problem with the law is that it gives all the bargaining power to the hospital and doctors," says bioethicist William Winslade, of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. "I think it would be better if an external mediator looked at cases. I’m sympathetic to hospitals on these issues, but I’ve talked to too many families who feel browbeaten and without recourse."
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