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Struggle For Woman's Right To Live Takes Positive Turn
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 2, 2006

HOUSTON, TEXAS--A legal showdown between a Houston hospital and the family of a heart patient may have been averted this week as a new doctor has stepped in to support her right to continue living.

Andrea Clark, 54, has been at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital since last November. In January she underwent open-heart surgery, but the following month developed bleeding on her brain.

Clark currently uses a ventilator to breathe and is on dialysis for her kidneys. Her family says she is not in a coma and communicates with them by blinking her eyes.

On April 19, the hospital's ethics committee notified Clark's sister, Lanore Dixon, that it had voted unanimously to remove the ventilator in accordance with the state's Futile Care Law. The committee's chairman, Dr. Robert Carpenter Jr., said the panel agreed with Clark's attending physician that she was experiencing "substantial pain and suffering", and a that her life-sustaining treatment would be stopped in 10 days.

Under the Texas law, hospitals can go against the wishes of patients and family members to refuse such treatment if doctors believe that it would be useless.

Last week, Clark's family had planned to move her to a medical center in Illinois, where the Texas law would not apply. That plan was scrapped, however, when the Chicago facility determined that it could not meet Clark's needs.

According to local news reports, a right-to-life group referred Dr. Matthew Lenz to Clark's family, which accepted him as her primary physician on Monday. The hospital is reportedly cooperating with Dr. Lenz, who is a general internal medicine physician on the hospital's medical staff.

Lenz has called for the level of Clark's sedatives to be cut in half in order to get an accurate picture of her condition. He also scheduled gall bladder surgery for Wednesday.

The national disability rights group Not Dead Yet issued a statement Tuesday, calling for the Texas Futile Care Law itself to be "euthanized".

"These policies are obviously directed with the aim to protect hospitals, doctors and other medical staff," said Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet. "There is absolutely no concern for the rights of patients reflected in these policies. And these policies are spreading, thanks to cooperation from both Democrats and Republicans."

Efforts are underway to make changes in the law during the upcoming legislative session.

"St Lukes receives Cease and Desist Letter from Family" (Lone Star Times)
"St. Luke's to continue care of heart patient" (Houston Chronicle)
"The Killing of America's Vulnerable -- A Bush Legacy" (North Country Gazette)
"Disability Advocates Say Texas 'Futile Care' Law Should Be Euthanized" (Not Dead Yet)

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