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Disabled man dies after Texas hospital withheld coronavirus treatment

CNA Staff, Jun 30, 2020 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- A woman in Texas says that her husband was denied treatment for COVID-19, was moved to a hospice, and then starved for six days after a doctor decided that his quality of life did not merit care due to his preexisting disabilities. 

Michael Hickson 46, died on June 11, eight days after he was admitted to St. David’s South Austin Medical Center with pneumonia. He had contracted the coronavirus from a staff member at his nursing home. 

Hickson, a Black man, developed an anoxic brain injury and quadriplegia after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest in 2017.

After he was admitted to St. David’s South Austin, his wife, Melissa Hickson, said she recorded a conversation she had with a doctor, where he explained that he did not want to administer coronavirus treatment to her husband because of his concerns that treatment would not improve Michael’s quality of life. Melissa posted the video on YouTube

“So as of right now his quality of life, he doesn’t have much of one,” says the unidentified doctor in the recording.

Melissa replied “What do you mean? Because he’s paralyzed with a brain injury he doesn’t have quality of life?” she asked. The doctor replied “correct.” 

Michael was given a court-appointed guardian, Family Eldercare, while his wife and his sister were engaged in a legal battle over which of them should be Michael’s permanent guardian. Representatives from Family Eldercare made the decision to remove Michael from the hospital  and place him in a hospice. 

The doctor informed Melissa that the decision to withhold care was “what we feel is best for him along with the state, and this is what we decided,” and that “this is the decision between the medical community and the state.”  

The doctor explained that he did not wish to intubate Michael, which is what the protocol for administering the treatment drug Remdesivir required. While Melissa agreed that she did not wish to have Michael intubated either, she did not approve of him being moved to hospice and asked for alternative treatments. 

While in hospice, Michael did not receive food or medical treatments, and was instead given painkillers until his death six days later, she said. He died from untreated illnesses related to the coronavirus.  

In a separate YouTube video posted by Melissa on June 29, she states that she was not permitted to FaceTime her husband while he was in hospice, and that she was not informed of his death for over 12 hours. She also claims that he was not visited by anyone from Family Eldercare the duration of his hospice stay.

A statement from St. David’s South Austin posted on their website offered condolences to the Hickson family. 

“The loss of life is tragic under any circumstances. In Mr. Hickson’s situation, his court-appointed guardian (who was granted decision-making authority in place of his spouse) made the decision in collaboration with the medical team to discontinue invasive care,” said the statement.  

“This is always a difficult decision for all involved. We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Hickson’s family and loved ones and to all who are grieving his loss.”

Michael is survived by Melissa and his five children.