Quadriplegic Begs to Die, But Hospital Refuses

VIDEO: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centers Dr. Lachlan Forrow shares his thoughts.
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For the last 18 months, Dan Crews has been waging a battle to die, one that he is losing.

For the last 24 years -- since he was paralyzed at age 3 in a car accident -- Crews has been a quadriplegic, able to speak and eat, but not breathe on his own.

"Just imagine having your arms and legs strapped down 24 hours a day, seven days a week and not being able to do anything about it and not going anywhere," said the 27-year-old, who lives with his mother in Antioch, Ill.

"I have no education," said Crews. "No education prospects. No job prospects. I have no love prospects. All I want is to no longer live like this."

The Supreme Court ruled a decade ago that a person can refuse medical treatment -- provided they are competent. And that is the biggest hurdle for Crews.

The head psychiatrist at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, where Crews has received most of his treatment since he was airlifted from the accident, says he is depressed and that overrides his ability to make a life or death decision.

The hospital did not return calls for comment, but medical records obtained by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel revealed that psychiatrists and mental health professionals have ruled Crews is depressed and must be treated before they will agree to such an irrevocable step.

Crews said he is not depressed -- "no more than the average person in my position."

Crews is now on antidepressants, but has refused psychiatric care. When he tried to starve himself, doctors threatened to use a feeding tube and he relented. But he hasn't changed his mind about dying.

Because his diaphragm is paralyzed, he is hooked up to a mechanical ventilator connected to his throat that breathes for him.

He can use the telephone and type on the computer with a mouth stick and has no problem eating, if family members or nurses put the food in his mouth. But Crews is physically unable to kill himself.

Lately, he spends most of the day in his dark bedroom sleeping, in between medical checks for vital signs. In the evening he watches movies and television.

His father, Gerald Crews, objects to his son's wishes. "He does not understand what I am going through," said Crews. "He thinks I'll get better."

His mother, Cheryl Crews, 60, is willing to stand by her son. "In the end, if this is what he wants, I have promised to support him," she said.

An estimated 5 to 10 percent of spinal cord injury patients contemplate suicide, six times higher than in the general population, according to the Kessler Institute in New Jersey, one of the nation's top rehabilitation centers, the one that treated the late actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed in a riding accident.

Suicide Rate Higher Among Spinal Cord Injury Patients

"Quality of life is determined more by support and reintegration into the community rather than level of severity or injury," said Loran C. Vocaturo, Kessler's director of neuropsychology. "Paraplegics don't do better than quads. It's more about the perception of their health status and level of care giving."

Many in the disabled community are uncomfortable with Crews' decision, but says Crews, "Most quadriplegics had a life before they were paralyzed. They had wives before the accident, but I had nothing."

No one expected Crews to live as long as he did, according to his mother. She was driving the car 24 years ago that swerved off a slick country road into a ditch.

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