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Monday, May 21st 2007

Futile Care

Emilio Gonzalez, a 19 month old in Austin, has been taken off life support amid controversy,

Doctors wanted to invoke a state law allowing the hospital to stop life support after a 10-day notice for patients deemed medically futile.

Emilio’s mother, Catarina Gonzales, said she knew her son would die but wanted doctors to continue care, pointing out that he smiled and turned his head when he heard voices. Her lawyer argued the state law was unconstitutional. In April, a judge agreed to temporarily block the hospital’s move to end life support.

“We mourn the death of Emilio Gonzales,” Michael Regier, senior vice president of legal services for the Seton Family of Hospitals, said in a statement. “We pray that in the days and weeks to come, Emilio’s mother and family will be comforted by God’s loving presence and by the knowledge that Emilio’s earthly suffering is now ended.”

The ongoing hustle prompted the Texas Senate to recently pass a law expanding the time a hospital must give a family to find another care facility to continue the futile care. The law, if it squeezes through the House before the end of this session, would expand the time from 10 days to 48 days.

This is a tough issue. I’m very close to pediatric intensivists who sincerely, utterly believe that continuing the suffering of a child who will not get better through artificial respiration goes against the Hippocratic Oath and is immoral. There is certainly an argument, under such reasoning, that allowing the family to even look into other options of continuing the suffering of their family member is immoral.

I don’t know what the answer is. I will say I’m offended by any generalized contentions about the ulterior motives of health care providers in these cases. There is huge sincerity, amongst all physicians I know, in trying to do what they think is right for their patient in these cases. Even if such puts enormous, unimaginable stress on the families.