46-year-old Chris Dunn has died at Houston Methodist Hospital after the hospital not only refused to diagnose him or offer a prognosis, but also invoked a law that would have allowed the hospital to withdraw life-sustaining treatment and thus cause his death.
Chris was admitted to the hospital in November with a mass on his pancreas. Rather than exploring the cause of his ailment and possible treatment plans, or offering a prognosis of any kind, the hospital instead invoked a draconian Texas law — the only one of its kind in the nation — which allows the hospital to remove a patient from life-sustaining treatment for any reason.
In Chris’s case, and many hospitalized Texas patients just like him, the hospital renders a discriminatory “quality of life” decision that care is “futile,” even in the absence of pathological testing, persistent comatose state, or diagnosis of brain death. Essentially, a hospital can invoke this law for any reason whatsoever.
Furthermore, at no point during Chris’s hospitalization was he declared brain-dead or comatose. He was intermittently alert, and was even filmed expressing his desire for legal representation to fight the invocation of the Texas Advance Directives Act (TADA). Chris’s legal team succeeded in obtaining consecutive restraining orders against the hospital which ensured that he was not removed from life-sustaining treatment, but the hospital countered by filing a petition to be granted custodial guardianship of Chris (seeking to remove this guardianship from his mother, Evelyn). Ultimately, Chris succumbed to his illness, which his physicians never diagnosed or attempted to treat.
Chris’s story garnered local and national media attention, raising awareness of the inhumane nature of the Texas Advance Directives Act. Houston Methodist retaliated against this unwanted attention by stationing guards at Chris’s room and barring Chris from seeing visitors whom he and his family had invited and welcomed. At one point, two visitors who had Chris’s permission to photograph and speak to him were escorted to their cars and seen off the premises before they could visit with or photograph Chris.
This treatment is not unusual. The law in question provides no legal recourse for patients and their surrogates who oppose a hospital-imposed death sentence. The law’s only provision for appealing a decision allows patients to take their disagreement to a vague panel of hospital administrators. These administrators wield ultimate authority over the patient’s life, making the final life-or-death decision (i.e., siding with the attending physician, or the patient). Texas Right to Life has connected hundreds of patients victimized by this law with legal counsel, and has worked for over a decade to repeal the TADA. However, opposition from the powerful medical lobby and rogue pro-life groups has consistently upended efforts to protect vulnerable hospital patients.
Sadly, Chris Dunn is not an anomaly in Texas; countless others have been on the receiving end of discriminatory quality-of-life decisions by physicians and hospitals who deem their lives unworthy of existence. Patient autonomy is an utterly irrelevant consideration in these processes. Meanwhile, pro-lifers in Texas continue to fight for the rights of patients like Chris.