At the outset, let me say that I am in favor of mediating bioethics committees in hospitals.  I have been a member of such a committee.  The members and the good they do day in and day out helping families and professionals navigate treacherous waters cannot be quantified.

But bioethics committees should not be allowed to become “the deciders,” to use a term coined by a past president.  Making them so would give them the right to make life and death decisions, as opposed to help families come to appropriate decisions on their own.  Such committees would have in inherent conflict of interest as the patients over whom they would rule regarding the continuation of care would often be profit drainers from the hospital, and their continued treatment could also fly in the face of the institutional culture that may have predominate views about such matters.  In short, granting bioethics committees the right to impose decisions about patients could be very dangerous to the most weak and vulnerable patients and their families.

My pal Bobby Schindler, Terri Schiavo’s brother, connects these dots around two cases that were discussed here at Secondhand Smoke.  Both cases were futile care imposition cases—one involving Baby Joseph in Canada, and the other Rachel Nyirahabiyambere, an African immigrant in Virginia.  From Schindler’s column, “Killing More Than Just the Patient:”

In fact, it has escalated to the point that physicians, attorneys, hospital administrators and others can make medical decisions that are completely contrary to an individual’s wishes – even if this “medical treatment” involves basic and ordinary care such as food and water. The people pulling the strings are commonly referred to as “ethics committees,” people with unilateral power to make life and death decisions regardless of a patient’s desires or those of his or her immediate family. This is why I and others believe that a type of “death panel” already exists in the form of ethics committees that can subjectively make decisions to end lives.

Bobby’s facts are undeniable.  The question is whether granting bioethics committees this power is right.  Some think so:
...Texas attorney Tom Malloy, may argue this point. According to this same March 22nd interview regarding the Baby Joseph case, Malloy (who has been a member on five ethics boards) said that all the dissent over last year’s health care reform law and questions of how to treat vulnerable patients like Baby Joseph were simply “an all-out effort to defeat health reform.” Malloy stated that decisions by ethics committees “have happened for years and they have nothing to do with Obama-care.” It is important to note that Malloy was instrumental in legislation to ensure that ethics committees have the last word over the removal of life-sustaining medical treatment and has admitted that “some” ethics boards “have ended the life of a patient, even children, over the objections of family.” Well, if these aren’t a type of “death panel,” then what will we be facing once the government controls our healthcare?

Consider attorney Thaddeus Pope, a professor at the University of Delaware School of Law, who confirmed Malloy’s assertion regarding ethics boards. Professor Pope believes that if cases like Baby Joseph were to happen in states like Texas, it wouldn’t even be newsworthy. “The mainstream media isn’t even covering these [cases] anymore. It’s not news.” Pope added, “The idea is that it never happens in the U.S. – it happens all the time.”

Actually, it remains noteworthy—still.  There have been several Texas cases in which the hospital had the legal power to unilaterally cut off care, but didn’t because of the media firestorm.  But woe betide if that changes, if media decide that the creation of a duty to die ceases to be newsworthy, for not only will it reflect bias, but the near completion of a new medical paradigm that undermines universal human rights.

Yes, the Twilight Zone clip I embedded is relevant, if not 100% on point. Do we want committees of strangers deciding whose lives are worth sustaining and living?

Articles by Wesley J. Smith

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