A Dying Man’s Wish to Save Others Hits Hospital Ethics Hurdle
At 44 years old, Dave Adox was facing the end of his two-year battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He needed a ventilator to breathe and couldn’t move any part of his body, except his eyes. Once he started to struggle with his eyes — his only way to communicate — Adox decided it was time to die. He wanted to donate his organs, to give other people a chance for a longer life. To do this, he’d need to be in a hospital when he went off the ventilator.
Adox and his husband, Danni Michaeli, made a plan. They would go to University Hospital in Newark, N.J., where Adox often had been treated, and have his ventilator disconnected. The doctors there had reassured Adox he could ask to come off the ventilator anytime. In May, his family and friends flew in from around the country, and joined neighbors for a big celebration of Adox’s life. They spent one last weekend with him, planting a tree and painting a big, colorful mural in his honor. Some wore T-shirts printed with Adox’s motto, “Celebrate everything until further notice.” But their plan suddenly changed when University Hospital’s attorneys intervened. “At the 11th hour, they emailed us and said their lawyers had stopped the process because they were afraid it looked too much like assisted suicide,” Adox explained. “I was crushed.” Every day, physicians withdraw life support on behalf of patients in hospitals who choose to refuse care. That’s generally not considered physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia — the key being that the patient is already in the hospital. But Adox was asking to be admitted to the hospital specifically to end his life. And despite the planning, his request made some people uncomfortable. Dr. John Bach, a professor of physical medicine rehabilitation and neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, which is affiliated with University Hospital, was Adox’s primary physician. Bach understood and approved of his patient’s plan to end his life and share his organs. “We have an ethics committee that approved it 100 percent,” Bach said. “We have a palliative care committee — they all agreed, 100 percent. But it didn’t make any difference to the lawyers of our hospital.” University Hospital has declined several requests for comment, but Bach said the hospital’s attorneys were concerned about liability.
Source/more: Kaiser Health News