Thursday, May 08, 2008

TX Hospital Pressures Parents to Withold Treatment from Comatose Teen

THREE days after their teenage daughter went in to a coma following surgery, doctors started pressuring Sabrina Lopez' parents to withhold treatment and feeding.

From "Doctors vs. Parents: Who Decides Right to Life? by Chris Vogel, posted 5/1/08 at

Lopez and Murray say that doctors and hospital staff began pressuring them to withhold treatment and feeding, which would ultimately starve Sabrina to death. To the parents, this was unacceptable. They wanted their daughter to live.

"I was very disappointed with the way Memorial Hermann handled things," Lopez says. "They put it out on the table that we were being selfish."

Murray and Lopez accuse the hospital staff, doctors and nurses of doing everything they could to try to end Sabrina's life during the ensuing six weeks, including:

• Refusing to implement simple procedures such as giving Sabrina feeding and breathing tubes that would have enabled the parents to take their daughter home and care for her themselves,

• Attempting to turn relatives and friends against Lopez and Murray by encouraging them to persuade the parents to withhold treatment, all the while violating federal privacy laws by discussing Sabrina's healthcare information,

• Entering two separate do-not-­resuscitate orders against her parents' wishes, and

• Threatening the family with convening the hospital's ethics committee, which under Texas law can overrule the family's wishes and withhold life-support treatment from a patient.

"It was like we were caught in a bad dream," says Murray. "We couldn't believe this was happening."

Lopez and Murray allege that the hospital staff did not properly monitor Sabrina's sodium levels after the first surgery and did not give her the fluids she needed that they say would have prevented the strokes. Instead, doctors and nurses kept giving Sabrina morphine, a drug known to deplete sodium.

As Lopez and Murray saw it, the hospital and physicians that caused their daughter's condition were now trying to end her life. And it seemed like there was nothing they could do to stop it.

Bioethicist Wes Smith comments, in a recent blog post:
This is a long story but very important to read. Sabrina awakened and is now living with her disability and cared for by her parents. And while I can't take a position about this particular case, I can say I hear from such desperate families on a continuing basis from all over the country. Futile care needs to be stopped.

"Texas is ground zero for Futile Care Theory because of its pernicious law that permits ethics committees to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment over patient/family objections. Readers of SHS will recall that when such a decision is rendered, families have a mere 10 days to find alternative care, which can lead to desperate situations, as I have reported on several occasions."