Michael Hickson was euthanized against the will of his wife.
That’s not what doctors are saying now. Most of the media is following suit. The 46-year-old African-American man was suffering from double pneumonia, sepsis and a urinary tract infection. He was also paralyzed, having become brain-damaged and quadriplegic after going into cardiac arrest in 2017 and suffering complications.
The doctors said something different when he was alive, however.
First, they refused to intubate him. According to a Washington Post report July 5, it wasn’t an issue of hospital capacity at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center in Texas, or the fact Hickson was quadriplegic or black.
It was just a “very sad and complex situation,” as one doctor described it, according to the Post, a situation that involved a painful disagreement between Hickson’s wife, Melissa Hickson, and Hickson’s sister, a physician and fellow at George Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C.
It wasn’t the first time Melissa Hickson had clashed with medical authorities over her husband’s care, according to the Post. And it wasn’t the first time Hickson’s sister had sided with the authorities. disagreement. In February, Hickson’s sister applied in court to take over as her brother’s guardian.
While that was still awaiting a court hearing, according to The Washington Post, a court appointed a temporary guardian for Hickson in February, taking his wife’s place.
So the family situation is sad — Michael and Melissa Hickson also have five children, now largely grown — and the legal issues are complex, but no amount of sadness or complexity will eliminate what one of Hickson’s doctors said to Melissa Hickson about intubation. Melissa Hickson had recorded the June 6 exchange and turned over the audio to KVUE-TV in Austin.
According to KVUE, Hickson had been brought to the hospital in early June from a nursing home and diagnosed with COVID-19. At the beginning of the conversation, the doctor says Michael doesn’t qualify for promising antiviral drug Remdesivir because he’s not intubated — and his doctors did not want to perform that procedure.
They decided not to go forward with aggressive treatment like intubation and Remdesivir because, “as of right now, his quality of life . . . he doesn’t have much of one.”
“What do you mean?” Hickson said. “Because he’s paralyzed with a brain injury, he doesn’t have quality of life?”
“Correct,” the doctor responded.
Hickson wasn’t the man he was before his 2017 cardiac arrest. The Morehouse graduate was blind, brain-damaged and had no concept of time. He needed to be tube fed. However, while he had gaps in memory, he could still remember things like his Social Security number, according to The Washington Post account.
Just in case you didn’t get the point, here we are again: “Will it affect his quality, will it improve his quality of life?” the doctor, who was not identified, says on Melissa Hickson’s recording. “And the answer is ‘no.'”
“Why wouldn’t it?” Melissa Hickson said. “Being able to live isn’t improving the quality of life?”
“There’s no improvement with being intubated, with a bunch of lines and tubes in your body, and being on a ventilator for more than two weeks,” the doctor responded.
Melissa Hickson agreed that intubation was not desirable, but then appeared to indicate it was preferable to simply letting her husband die.
“And I totally agree with you on the intubation part of it. I don’t want him intubated,” she said.
“But I also don’t think you should just sit him somewhere to be comfortable until he finally just drifts away. That, to me, is futile, too. That’s saying you’re not even trying to save someone’s life, you’re just watching them go.”
Another instance where it’s perfectly clear what the doctor means: At one point, he talks about patients who’ve managed to pull through similar situations by fighting off COVID-19 on their own with oxygen, although it’s unclear what measures were taken. Hickson asks how long they were there and the doctor says “one-and-a-half to two weeks, sometimes even longer.” Hickson then mentions her husband has only been there “since Tuesday.” (If the New York Post’s timeline is correct, that means three days.)
“However, his quality of life is different from theirs,” the doctor says. “They were walking and talking people.”
Again, this is the compassionate thing to do — the same way euthanasia is.
“So the fact that you’re killing someone doesn’t make sense in your mind?” Melissa Hickson asks.
The doctor denies it’s “killing,” but they are actively giving up on the patient.
“At this point, I don’t think it would be humane or compassionate to put a breathing tube in this man,” the doctor says.
And then there’s the dismissiveness — comments which, if delivered in any other context to a black woman trying to get care for her black husband, would likely be attacked by the mainstream media as both telling and patronizing.
When Hickson talks about an older relative who have survived the coronavirus: “Well, I’m going to go with the data. I’m not going to go with stories, because stories don’t help me, OK?” the doctor replies, curtly.
He also makes it clear that Melissa Hickson’s input isn’t particularly desirable in what happens to her husband — partially because, due to the friction between Melissa Hickson and her sister-in-law, the state (as previously mentioned) had to step in to make decisions about what would happen with Michael Hickson — although it certainly seemed like they were more than willing to defer to doctors who weren’t particularly interested in saving his life.
He would die six days later on June 11 in hospice care. Melissa Hickson says she asked to be able to speak with him via FaceTime in hospice, but the staff there was too busy to set it up. He died without ever talking to his wife again.
The hospital declined to be interviewed, but a statement on their website from DeVry Anderson, chief medical officer of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, issued a lengthy statement in which he never actually refuted Melissa Hickson’s account nor stated the doctor was being taken out of context.
What he did was lay out Hickson’s infirmities when he arrived at the hospital — which were substantial — and how he progressed during the course of his treatment.
“If you take one thing away from this statement, please understand this: This was not a matter of hospital capacity. It had nothing to do with Mr. Hickson’s abilities or the color of his skin. We treat ALL patients equally,” Anderson wrote in the July 2 statement.
“This was a man who was very, very ill and in multi-system organ failure. His legal guardian and his doctors worked together, consulting pulmonary and critical care specialists, to determine a care plan that was best for him.”
All of this is perhaps true, but none of it makes moot what Hickson’s doctor said — which was that his life wasn’t quite like other lives and that this played a part in their decision-making.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “euthanize” as ” the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (such as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.”
It would be hard to describe the medical action (or inaction) in Hickson’s case any other way.
The case is getting attention beyond Texas.
Michael Hickson’s story has hit mainstream, reputable media. https://t.co/R5wXHODMTp
— Sara Luterman (@slooterman) July 8, 2020
Say his name: Michael Hickson
No one is protesting for him. They should be. What they did to him and his poor wife was immoral. https://t.co/CChbaI0vkf
— Time4fisticuffs (@ullikemike) July 11, 2020
The National Council on Disability, in a July 2 news release, condemned how the hospital treated Hickson.
“Mr. Hickson’s death resulted from a hospital’s refusal to provide him with life-saving care for COVID-19 and withholding nutrition and hydration. News coverage includes a recorded conversation between Melissa Hickson, Mr. Hickson’s wife, and a doctor at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, where he informed her that the hospital would not provide her husband with medical treatment because it deemed Mr. Hickson to have a low quality of life due to his pre-existing quadriplegia and head injury,” the release read.
“NCD denounces this denial of life-saving care. The presence of a disability does not lessen a person’s value, nor should it warrant a person’s abandonment by the medical facilities they rely on for care. When a medical facility makes a decision to deny medical care to a person with a disability that is based on, or influenced by, biased views about life with a disability, it runs afoul of federal civil rights laws.”
This should be the poster-child for the intersectional left when it comes to the COVID-19 victims: black, disabled, written off by dismissive doctors. Instead, there’s a shrug. Well, what are you going to do? Let’s move along, nothing to see here.
Michael Hickson’s life mattered. He was in the hands of a doctor who didn’t think it did. No amount of explicating changes what’s on that recording — or makes it any more palatable.
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