Bioethics News

Another controversy over futile care in Texas

Chris Dunn in hospital bed before Christmas   

Medical ethicists have clashed over the death of Chris Dunn, a Texan man at the centre of an end-of-life care legal battle.

Dunn, 46, died late last month, following a year-long battle with apparent pancreatic cancer. Certain members of his family were petitioning a court to mandate the continuation of life-sustaining treatment. A medical ethics committee at Houston Methodist Hospital, acting on advice from one of Dunn’s doctors, deemed ANH to be inappropriate and decided to allow his doctor to discontinue life-sustaining treatment.

Some of the details of the case remain unclear. It is perhaps best merely to quote the differing opinions that have been offered following Dunn’s death.

In an essay in The Public Discourse earlier this month, paediatrician Phillip Hawley Jr. argued that the decision of the hospital to Dunn’s life-sustaining treatment was tantamount to ‘death by committee’:

“Having participated in many treatment discussions on behalf of terminally ill patients, I will readily acknowledge that patients and families sometimes have unrealistic hopes for a cure. However, acknowledging this possibility does not redeem a badly flawed law or vindicate a morally corrupt decision. In deciding to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from an alert and cognizant patient who so obviously wanted to continue living, the hospital and its ethics committee stole from him the two most fundamental rights enumerated in our Constitution: life and liberty.”

Hawley argues that there is evidence to suggest that Dunn was still capable of rational decision-making, and that, in any event, it was unjust for the hospital to attempt to override the wishes of his family members who wanted ANH to continue.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.