Long-time Lifeline readers will understand that Life Legal Defense Foundation’s (LLDF) priority has always been defending the constitutional rights of free speech on behalf of those who advocate for the lives of the unborn. As we have seen time and time again, protecting the right to speak and advocate on behalf of the unborn translates directly into lives saved from abortion. While this will remain the heart of our efforts here at LLDF, we have been called with increasing frequency to expand our legal work as assaults on the right to life take new forms.
One area of expansion is defending the right to life-sustaining medical treatment for those who are vulnerable due to advanced age and illness. Healthcare providers are routinely denying requests by patients for wanted life-sustaining treatment. LLDF hears of these denied requests for treatment every week, and it has become evident it is necessary to advocate for life in the healthcare environment. As we have seen, this form of advocacy translates directly into lives saved from an unnecessarily hastened death.
To this end, in our last issue of Lifeline we introduced the project known as Life Legal Guardians (LLG). Having received numerous calls for assistance where callers described horror story after horror story, we saw the need to educate and prepare as many people as possible in order to prevent these emergency situations.
Even with preparation, advocacy inside hospital walls can be a challenging task. The following story highlights the difference a hospital and its staff can make, a tale of three hospitals if you will, on a very personal level for the author. The intention is not to exploit the death of a loved one but to show you the different approach to health care from three different hospitals. It will demonstrate that a written directive for healthcare and some strong advocacy can make the difference between a hastened death and a death in the Creator’s timing.
The patient in the story was diagnosed with leukemia and a symptom of the disease in this instance was excessive bleeding. After an out-patient surgery the bleeding was uncontrollable and the patient was admitted to the hospital for 24-hour observation. A directive with the patient’s health care wishes was placed in the patient’s file upon admittance.
During the night the patient became incapacitated and the designated agent for the patient was not notified that the patient had “coded” and almost died. The next morning the agent was contacted by the attending physician when it was determined that the patient’s kidneys were failing. The physician commented that “letting the patient go” was advisable, and added, “However, I think temporary dialysis will take care of the problem with his kidneys,” this despite the fact that the patient’s directive stated all measures to resuscitate and prolong life should be taken unless the patient or his agent decided otherwise.
The agent’s response was “Excuse me doctor, but that was never your decision to make. He will receive dialysis. Follow the advance directive.” To the agent, it was even more frightening that she was not contacted during the night and the doctor’s mindset was such that he could have just as easily not resuscitated the patient.
All trust in that doctor/patient relationship now gone, the patient was transported to another hospital at the request of the agent. There he received temporary dialysis, eventually being released to a full-time rehab facility for care until he was ready to return home. At all times the agent’s requests on behalf of the patient were honored.
About three weeks later the patient was transported from the rehab facility to a third hospital due to uncontrollable internal bleeding. Just as in the second hospital, the health care staff at this location was attentive and respectful of the patient’s wishes. Staff reviewed the patient’s directive with the agent. The attending physicians examined the patient and shared various options with the agent. The patient was eventually moved to the ICU because the internal bleeding could not be controlled and after several days the patient lost consciousness. Even so, anytime the patient had visitors the attending nurse would instruct visitors to talk to him. “He can hear you even though he’s not conscious.”
The decision as to whether or not the patient was full code (take all measures to resuscitate) or no code was left to the agent. The agent having determined full code status would be maintained, the medical team prepared a “crash cart” to prepare for cardiac arrest as a result of the uncontrolled bleeding. There was never pressure to “let the patient go.” The request for “full code” was respected.
The agent was the patient’s spouse, and along with her son, eventually the decision was made not to resuscitate. If resuscitated the patient would again “bleed out” and cardiac arrest would again ensue, creating an endless cycle that would not cure the patient’s condition.
This tale of three hospitals is to show what a difference the staff and policies at a hospital can make. It also shows the need for advocacy inside the hospital walls because in each hospital the patient had the same directive. In one hospital the spouse had to be an advocate and had to confront the healthcare team. In the others, the spouse was consulted and at all times the patient was treated with the dignity and respect every human being deserves when they are undergoing serious medical issues.
This story is a true story and very personal to this author. The patient was the author’s husband. And even though my husband, Doug, passed away, he did so on his terms, and in God’s timing, which was what he wanted.
On a weekly basis Life Legal speaks with those in similar situations and who need help to persuade various hospitals to provide life-sustaining treatment in accordance with their loved one’s wishes. The need to advocate for life has moved inside the walls of the hospital. Our hope is that you will see the need to be prepared and that you will make those preparations through LLDF’s LLG project.
To reiterate, LLG is a new means of legal pre-planning for the emergency medical crises of life. Instead of solely an advance directive, a written piece of paper safeguarding life, LLG provides a live real-time legal team and support network, ready if and when the need arises. It also provides members with a power of attorney, allowing the patient’s agent to intervene on behalf of the threatened individual. LLG is a new advance planning alternative that invites its client members to invest in a community dedicated to the culture of life that will in turn defend their lives when necessary. Beyond that, it will help build the culture of life through the dissemination of information and education of its community of members, as well as society at large. The result will be to make the hastening of death less possible, less desired, and less accepted. It will educate and prepare its members, the medical and legal communities, and society in advancing the cause of life in the medical context.
Quite literally, your life or the life of your loved one may depend on it. We implore you to visit our website, mentioned above, and consider membership in LLG. Beyond membership, you may want to help defray the costs of implementing the project. You can do so by donating (there is a drop-down chooser on the form to designate the Donation Type of your gift), or you can mail a donation in the envelope that accompanied this issue of Lifeline.
As we say time and time again, we cannot do it without you.
Originally published in Lifeline Vol. XXIV, No. 1 (Winter 2015)