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Remember how people were afraid that based on the Affordable Care Act, “death panels” would be making life and death decisions for their patients? The fact is that at least in hospitals, these panels have existed since the 1970s, in the form of ethics committees. I must say after researching these committees, I’m even more confused and ambivalent about their roles and decisions.
Listening to talk radio in my car, I learned about this issue and how it became a hot topic in Texas. One of the most publicized cases was the case of David Chris Dunn, 46 years old and a former deputy sheriff for Harris County, Texas. He was transferred to Houston Methodist on October 12, 2015. He had a mass on his pancreas which affected his other organs and was in renal failure. The family was told he would die that night, but he didn’t. Over time the medical team met to discuss Dunn’s condition; he wasn’t improving.
One day, J. Richard Cheney, the chairman of the hospital Bioethics Committee entered the room. Dunn’s mother, Evelyn Kelly, woke up to learn that the committee had decided to remove all of Dunn’s life-support machines. Kelly refused to let them take these steps. The committee met again, approved of the doctor’s decision to end medical care. The only option Evelyn Kelly had was to try to get her son transferred to another hospital. She was not surprised to discover that no one would take him.