Friday, April 21, 2006

End of life debate in West Michigan

The Grand Rapids Press has a two stories about a 97-year-old woman named Hazel Wagner in Allegan General Hospital. One doctor there, Brian Drozdowski, has "filed a petition eight days ago asking Van Buren County Probate Judge Frank Willis to cease the heroic efforts to keep Wagner alive, court records show. He asked that her "full code" status be changed to respite care, with her breathing tube removed, tube feedings stopped and measures taken to make Wagner comfortable." In the court document, Drozdowski has stated that Wagner has "almost no chance of meaningful recovery."

The patient has dementia, only one living relative, and never filled out any kind of end-of-life document such as a do-not-resuscitate order, a living will or a durable power of attorney.

The second article details that Ms. Wagner's guardian, Tammy Dykstra, has removed Ms. Wagner from Allegan General Hospital to a hospital in Kalamazoo. According to court officials, Dykstra "understood Wagner was improving."

One of the articles also notes that if a judge ruled in favor of Drozdowski petition, the guardian (not Drozdowski or the hospital) would be allowed to decide if Ms. Wagner continues to receive food and water and breathing support.

I think the language used in the first story is instructive of how our culture views those that receive and need certain life-sustaining medical care.

"should be allowed to die"

‘"unethical" to keep her alive like this'

"He finally died in October 2001"

"Our opinion is that it would be futile to continue to aggressively treat (such patients)."

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