Life Support Decision Reversed

Physicians at Saint Luke's Episcopal Hospital have decided to keep a seriously ill woman on life support indefinitely. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the hospital had decided to remove Andrea Clark from life support but reversed that decision yesterday.

Andrea Clark is on a respirator and receiving dialysis after complications from open heart surgery and bleeding in the brain. Doctors at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital deemed her condition futile and an ethics committee decided to remove her from life-sustaining treatment. But Clark's family fought that decision along with attorney Jerri Lynn Ward, who says a new attending physician will treat Clark.

"The decision has been made to take Andrea off of the futility procedure, the ten-day procedure, and to continue treating her for the timebeing at St. Luke's."

The futility procedure is a system Texas hospitals have in place for cases such as this one where doctors and family members disagree. Dr. Eugene Boisaubin is a clinical ethicist at U.T. Medical School and at Memorial Hermann Hospital. He says the futility law is designed to protect the patient.

"If, in any way, the patient is able to speak for themselves and have mental awareness to speak for themselves and understand the issue those are the wishes we go by. The patient decision trumps family input, it trumps the doctors desires, the patient is supreme."

But if the patient is not competent and has no advance directive for end of life issues, the legal decision is left to the physicians. Boisaubin says every avenue of care should be explored before a hospital makes the decision to remove life support. And he doesn't think Memorial Hermann Hospital would have handled the Clark case in the same way.

"If a policy decision had been made, we would not -- you know -- then go ahead and reverse the case, which suggests that well, were they wrong and it's not futile."

Boisaubin says the public is very sensitive to end of life issues, especially after the national scrutiny of the Terry Schiavo case. Most hospitals don't have to make these decisions very often, maybe one case a month will go to an ethics committee. And most of the time doctors and families agree on the decision. St. Luke's Hospital and Clark's family released a joint statement saying Dr. Matthew Lenz, who is on staff at the hospital, will take on primary care responsibilities for Clark. The statement also says St. Luke's will continue to provide the same level of care while continuing an aggressive search for other caregivers who might be able to meet her long-term care needs. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...