I’ll admit that I’m not a lawyer and have to do my homework to even attempt to understand lawyer-speak. (For example, see this definition of “Abatement”) How I wish more lawyers would admit they aren’t doctors, especially when they accuse doctors and entire hospital committees of killing patients.
Earlier this week, I reviewed the latest sensationalized case involving lawyers and lawyer-lobbyists playing doctor in the media and courts to overturn Section 166.046 of the Texas Advance Directive Act (“TADA”).
TADA outlines the process to settle disputes between an attending physician and the patient (or the family of a patient) when the medical judgment of the doctor about what is medically appropriate for the patient conflicts with the demands for treatment that the patient or family wants *that* particular doctor to perform.
Texas law prohibits the removal of “artificially administered nutrition and hydration” and pain medications unless the doctors determine they will cause further harm. However, a ventilator, intubation tubes in the throat, cardio-version (CPR), surgery and invasive procedures or tests are not ordinary or comfort care and are considered “life-sustaining” treatment that may be removed or withheld from a patient with a terminal disease if the patient’s doctor determines that are not medically appropriate. There is certainly no provision in Texas law to intentionally stop a patient’s breathing or to otherwise cause certain death.
The lawyers lobbying and suing against TADA admit in both public statements and legal complaints that they will settle for nothing less than “Due Process,” lawyer-speak reference to the Fourteenth Amendment clause, “due process of law.” They demand that every dispute about medically appropriate care between doctors and patients be argued – by lawyers – in court, preferably with a risk of “liability” for the doctor, any committee member who reviews the case under TADA, and the hospital where the patient is under care. Judges, and possibly juries, would determine the local medical standard of care, which medical procedures are appropriate for which patients, and liability. Lawyers and judges would essentially practice medicine instead of doctors.
To summarize this latest case, court records document** the affidavit from the attending physician of a 46 year old Pasadena, Texas man, Chris Dunn. Mr. Dunn was admitted to the ICU at Houston’s Methodist hospital unresponsive after a major gastrointestinal bleed due to metastatic pancreatic cancer led to his emergency transfer from a hospital in his hometown. Mr. Dunn was on a ventilator and suffering from liver, kidney, and respiratory failure. He had fluid in his lungs, necessitating higher and higher pressures on the ventilator. He had fluid leaking into the abdominal cavity due to the liver failure, ascites, that required intermittent draining. He also suffered from hepatic encephalopathy, a form of variable dementia and delirium. His doctors and his father agreed that the repetitive, invasive treatments necessary to maintain the ventilator and treat the multi-organ failure should be stopped because they were causing Mr. Dunn harm, while comfort care would continue.
In their lawsuit against the hospital, a group of lawyers brought in by Mr. Dunn’s mother and Texas Right to Life sued the hospital in Mr. Dunn’s name, although there was a question about both Mr. Dunn’s ability to legally consent and the legal status of either parent alone to make medical decisions on Mr. Dunn’s behalf. In fact, the court ruled an “Abatement” or suspension of the lawsuit on December 4, 2015, until the legal guardianship for Mr. Dunn could be settled in another court. And, sadly, in spite of continued treatment in the Intensive Care Unit, on a ventilator, with IV and tube feedings, and all the repetitive blood tests, suctioning, and invasive procedures these treatments required, Mr. Dunn succumbed to his disease before that other court could meet to name a guardian.
In their lawsuit against the hospital, the lawyers even accuse “the facility” (not the attending doctor) of planning to actively euthanize Mr. Dunn by the deliberate use of injections intended to cause his death, rather than to relieve his pain:
“Defendant scheduling . . . and Defendant administering, via injection, a combination of drugs which will end his life almost immediately, thus warranting immediate intervention by this court.” (**p.2)
The lawyers further declared that the doctors and the Methodist Biomedical Ethics Committee – and every doctor or hospital committee – would be corrupted by their affiliation with the hospital:
“The statute does not provide adequate safeguards to protect against the conflict of interest inherently present when the treating physician’s decision is reviewed by the hospital “ethics committee” to whom the physician has direct financial ties.
“Texas Health and Saftey [sic] Code violates Plaintiff’s right to procedural due process by failing to provide an adequate venue for Plaintiff and those similarly situated to be heard in this critical life-ending decision. The law also fails to impose adequate evidentiary safeguards against hospitals and doctors by allowing them to make the decision to terminate life-sustaining treatment in their own unfettered discretion.” (**pp. 5,6)
“Under Tex. Health and Safety Code 166.046, a fair and impartial tribunal did not and could not hear Dunn’s case. “Ethics committee” members from the treating hospital cannot be fair and impartial, when the propriety of giving Dunn’s expensive life-sustaining treatment must be weighed against a potential economic loss to the very entity which provides those members of the “ethics committee” with privileges and a source of income.” (**p. 7)
Lawyer-speak notwithstanding, I can’t figure out – and the lawyers don’t tell us – how to ensure that “unfettered” pancreatic cancer presenting with multi-organ failure followed “due process” in Mr. Dunn’s case. Other than lawyers from each side hiring and paying even more doctors to re-examine the patient and re-view the existing medical records, repeated clinical exams and nurses’ notes, lab work and non-invasive scans of the liver and abdomen, what would a judge or jury consider “evidentiary safeguards against doctors and hospitals?”
But in news article after blog post, lawyers (but no doctors) claimed that “the hospital wanted to kill” Mr. Dunn. Lawyers (but no doctors) claimed there were un-named additional tests and treatments which could have changed the diagnosis, treatment or prognosis. Lawyers (but no doctors) disputed the medical judgment of the very doctors from whom the lawsuit demanded continued intensive care.
In their lawsuit, the lawyers also declared that, “Members of a fair and impartial tribunal should not only avoid a conflict of interest, they should avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, especially when a patient’s life is at stake.” (*p. 7) But that didn’t stop them from including an ironic and self-serving demand that Methodist hospital pay their “Attorney fees and costs.” (p. 12)
**(Protected “.pdf” “Images” of the original legal documents quoted below can be found online, here. The document images aren’t link-able and can’t be copied or printed, so I will have to type up and share quotes. See Family case number 2015-69681. The quotes above are from document number 6796448.pdf, “Plaintiff’s Original Verified Petition and Application for Temporary Restraining Order and Injunctive Relief.”)