The Engage Family Blog

Official Blog of The Family Policy Council of West Virginia

Doctors in WV Seek to End life

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Tell mother that her son is “dead and not coming back.”

By Nathan A. Cherry

 Martinsburg, WV – Angela Lanciano Moreno looks like she hasn’t slept in a week. That’s because she hasn’t. Her son, 22 year old Christian is in the intensive care unit at City Hospital, Martinsburg, West Virginia after a heroine injection. But this is far from just a case of substance abuse.

 After just a few days in the hospital, doctors told Angela that Christian had no brain activity and they would be pulling life support; despite Angela’s ardent protests. (Click here for the full article)

 “(The doctors) told me as of this morning that, even though I am his legal guardian, that if two of them declare him brain dead after all of the heroin is out of system, they have the right and will unplug him.”

 All of Lanciano’s requests for more treatment, or further tests have been met with stern resistance by hospital doctors. In talking with Angela this morning she told me,

 “When the heroine is out of his system they will declare him brain dead. I requested a 24-hour e.e.g. and they said it was not necessary.”

 Angela requested the further tests because she, and other friends and family, have been witness to signs of life from Christian. They have felt him squeeze their hand, seen his fingers move, and watched his eyelids flutter; all this from a man doctors have told Angela is dead and not coming back.

 The part that makes Angela so angry is the attitude the doctors have taken with her regarding her son’s treatment. In an interview with Martinsburg Journal reporter Jenni Vincent, Angela said,

“At one point, when I was gone briefly, his fever had spiked to 103 degrees and his blood pressure was about 77 over 24, and they had basically taken him off everything. … I felt like a decision had been made to let him die without me even being there. When I confronted the doctor, I was told he is already dead and that he’s not coming back. That was the attitude.”

 Despite your political leanings this is an issue of life. And not just life, but who is guardian over life. What right does a doctor have to determine when to give care and when to let a person die over the desires of that person’s family, especially a mother? What is the point of guardianship if that guardian does not have the ability to do what is in the best interest of the person?

 The law on the books in most states read like this:

“In 1989, legislators passed the Uniform Determination of Death Act, which defines death. According to that legislation, death has occurred when breathing has stopped and the heart is no longer beating. But death can also occur, by definition under this statute, when there has been a complete stoppage of all brain functions, including the brain stem. Doctors don’t need permission from the family to discontinue machines to breathe for the patient, because there is a legal definition for death – and they do have the legal authority, really the legal responsibility, to declare someone dead when they’re dead.”

But wait just a minute. We have all heard of people waking up from a coma after years. We have all known someone who knew someone who experienced a miraculous recovery after a month or two. We have all heard a doctor say, “I don’t know how he/she is alive.”

Quite frankly this law makes no sense. Why is it a doctor’s responsibility to decide when to end treatment, end life? What interest does the doctor have? Parents have only the highest interest for their children. And yet we are trumping their voice in favor of a doctor who may spend 15 minutes a day in the room. Something seems wrong with this picture.

What scares me is the idea that health-care rationing could become common place and “normal” under a proposed new health care program authored by President Obama. Some disagree and say it’s just a myth; others are quite concerned with a very real threat.

 Regardless of what happens with health-care in the future, the current system that allows doctors to trump a patient’s family and decide what to do is troubling, at best. A better health care system begins with the long-term health and well-being of a patient being placed in the hands of those who have that person’s best interest in mind – their family.

 Christian is a tall, athletic looking young man. He’s got some tattoos on his arms and the appropriate facial hair for a normal kid his age. But unlike others his age, he is hooked up to a ventilator and several other machines that are helping to keep him alive. He nurse is tending to his i.v. and doing her best to make him as comfortable as possible.

 I held Christians hand and prayed for him and his family. I am optimistic that I will soon be able to talk face to face with Christian and hear him laugh while his very tired, sleep-deprived mother Angela smiles at her “baby-boy.”


Written by Nathan Cherry

August 28, 2009 at 12:43 pm

One Response

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  1. […] all hours of day and night with her son. She has fought doctors who told her that Chris was “dead and not coming back.” She has fought hospital administrators who told her she had three days to make an end-of-life […]

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