Quadriplegic man’s death from covid-19 spotlights questions of disability, race and family

It is tragic when patients are denied the treatment they need and deserve based on a subjective judgment about the quality of their life.  Subjective, qualitative medical judgements can be harmful and even deadly. Too often we are seeing medical professionals substitute these subjective quality of life judgments for authentic treatment, especially as they navigate the coronavirus pandemic and in places where assisted suicide is legal. Real treatment always respects the inherent value of every patient, and that value doesn’t change with either sickness or disability.

“Michael Hickson, a 46-year-old father of five from Texas, was sick with covid-19 when doctors reached a crossroads in his treatment. He had pneumonia in both lungs, a urinary tract infection and sepsis — a dangerous immune response leading to multi-system organ failure.

He needed a ventilator to help him continue breathing, but the hospital felt further intervention for the disabled man was futile. A doctor explained to the family that there was little hope Hickson would survive or regain ‘quality of life.’

Hickson’s sister, a physician, agreed. So did the agency acting as his legal guardian. But his wife, Melissa Hickson, was horrified. She worried doctors were placing less value on her husband’s life because he was a black man who was disabled. After going into cardiac arrest in 2017 and suffering complications, he had been left quadriplegic and brain-damaged.

The disagreements over Michael Hickson’s care — amplified by an audio recording, widely shared on social media, of his wife pleading with a doctor to continue treatment — provide a rare window into fraught end-of-life decisions that are being made across the country as the novel coronavirus continues its rampage. The case puts a spotlight on issues of race, disability and family, including the different ways individuals, even within the same family, assess what makes a life worth living…

‘So as of right now, his quality of life — he doesn’t have much of one,’ the doctor explains.

‘What do you mean?’ she asks. ‘Because he’s paralyzed with a brain injury, he doesn’t have quality of life?’

‘Correct,’ the doctor responds. The hospital declined an interview on behalf of the doctor, who is not identified in the recording.

The debate over Hickson’s care has hit a nerve as crisis protocols activated by health officials in some jurisdictions would allow hospitals to ration treatments in certain circumstances, as coronavirus cases surge. Disability rights activists, among others, express alarm that disadvantaged groups — the disabled, members of minority groups, the poor — might get lower priority…”

Read more at the Washington Post…


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