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More about Andrea Clark

Wesley Smith of Secondhand Smoke and Amy Welborn of Open Book have hosted blog discussions of the case of Andrea Clark. I wrote about this case here. has a series of articles here. A quick summary is Ms. Clark is a seriously ill patient at St. Luke’s hospital in Houston, Texas. This is an Episcopal hospital. She requires a ventilator. Her family states she is coherent when she is not sedated from pain medication and she is able to communicate with them by moving her lips and blinking her eyes. They state she has clearly communicated she wants to continue with this treatment.

The hospital convened an ethics committee as they are authorized to do under Texas law. They determined her care is futile. Therefore, they want to remove life support and allow Ms. Clark to die. Once the committee’s decision is made, the family has 10 days to find alternate care. If they are unable to do so, they proceed with their course of action. In this case, the deadline is April 30.

In the discussion of this case, there have been quite a few statements to the effect of “You guys just want unlimited care for everyone!” That is simply not true. What I object to is the decision for removal of care is taken away from the patient and given to a hospital committee that may or may not have the patient’s best interest in mind. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous’ treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s ability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected. (CCC 2278)

It is the will of the patient that must be respected. This does not mean that a patient can demand and receive any treatment he desires. The case of Andrea Clark deals with the withdrawal of care, not the institution of new treatment. The assertion is that Andrea is content with the status quo. She still finds value in her life. It is not within the moral purview of the ethics committee to override her assessment and declare her life is of no value and take actions to terminate it.

I have no way of knowing if the assertions and allegations of Andrea Clark’s family are accurate. They are very serious. Even if the hospital cannot comment on the medical specifics of this case, they should be able to comment on the values and priorities the ethics committee uses to make these kinds decisions. Important information to know would be:

Who makes up the ethics committee and how are they selected?
What financial relationships exist between the hospital and ethics committee members?
Do they recognize individual human dignity and autonomy?
Is their primary focus the most economically advantageous utilization of hospital resources?
Are they made aware of the insurance status of the patient and the financial impact to the hospital of various care alternatives for any given patient?
Do they make judgments on the quality of life of a given patient?

St. Luke’s hospital needs to publicly address these issues. Their absolute silence is worrisome.

UPDATE: This just posted at


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