Quadriplegic Begs to Die, But Hospital Refuses


Cheryl Crews punctured a lung and broke her neck, but Dan, strapped in to his car seat, "came out looking like he hadn't even broken a bone."

"But he was all blue and they had to breathe life back into him," she said. He has needed a ventilator ever since.

After the accident, the family won a lawsuit and received a $4 million trust to take care of their son's medical expenses.

"We were told to bring him home and make his life count and to make him happy, because he wasn't going to live very long," said his mother.

The trust settlement gave the family enough money to hire good nurses. "My ex-husband and I watched over him carefully," she said. "He didn't get bed sores. Who knew this would turn around and bite him."

Nursing care -- two a day working 92 hours a week – has cost the family $300,000 to $500,000 year.

With the medical expenses and the economic downturn, the trust fund ran out, dashing any hopes for further education, seeking the second opinion of new psychiatrists or even a legal fight against the hospital.

Crews has applied for Medicaid and will likely end up in a ward of the state and in a nursing home. "Who wants to die there?" said his mother.

Though he would like to continue to live at home, Illinois Medicaid often denies requests for the 24-hour care, according to the Journal-Sentinel report.

"I would be lying if I said money was not a part of it, but that's never been the only reason," said Dan Crews. "I am just tired of living like this."

He said he even considered moving to Oregon or Washington, states where doctor-assisted suicide is legal, and establishing the required 12-month residency. But no one could promise that a psychiatrist would rule him capable of making the decision and he couldn't afford the move.

Crews said he life had been "pretty good" until the age of about 19. He was an honors student, earned a two-year degree at College of Lake County and aspired to be a criminal prosecutor.

But soon, he began to feel he had no control over his future. Crews couldn't find a college close by to continue his education and missed the social interaction. All but one friend dropped away.

In May of 2009, Crews asked his doctor for permission to start drinking alcohol. "I wanted to drink myself into oblivion," he said.

The doctor suggested that he might consider removing the ventilator.

"It was his idea," Crews said. "No one ever gave me that option."

It was also the best moment he'd had in years. "I was happy, sleeping better, smiling more and feeling better," he said.

His family was devastated. "I made people sob," said Crews. "My dad broke down in front of me. My friend sobbed for 10 minutes."

But after a series of consultations with palliative care experts and psychiatrists, one of whom ruled him competent, doctors changed their minds. Crews was asked to take antidepressants and wait three months.

By June 2010, Crews was so desperate he had an outburst threatening to kill himself. Then he staged an unsuccessful four-day hunger strike.

He was told he needed two psychiatrists to override the hospital decision -- one they might reconsider in several months or a year.

"You can look at it legally and ethically, and this case lines up the same way," said Dr. Stuart Youngner chair of the bioethics committee at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. "If he is a competent adult, he has the right to refuse treatment. The complicating issue is if they complain he is depressed and not competent."

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