9 On Your Side Immigration Watch
When to pull the plug?
Reporter: Steve Nuñez
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - When to pull the plug? That's the question raised after 9 On Your Side aired a story involving the wife of a comatose Mexican immigrant. But, immigration status aside, experts say today's healthcare treatment lean towards the legal taking of life.
Evelyn Cornelio, only 23, is faced with the heart-wrenching decision to take her husband, Jesus, off of life support or face the consequences that the hospital could send him back to Mexico for further treatment.
Jesus, also 23, suffered an aneurism while playing soccer eleven days ago. Evelyn said he went without oxygen for more then ten minutes and, as a result, suffered severe brain damage. Jesus is currently on life support.
Evelyn claims Jesus is now showing signs of improvement.
"They put the feeding tube in him yesterday (Wednesday)," said Cornelio. "They took off the oxygen machine from him so he's breathing on his own."
Jesus is in the country legally. Evelyn said he received his social security card on Saturday.
Still, Cornelio's case raises a more serious legal and ethical question: how long should hospitals artificially keep a person alive?
The Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix declined direct comment due to privacy laws.
So, 9 On Your Side Reporter Steve Nuñez posed the question to Christopher Robertson. He's a UA Law Professor and serves a Medical Ethicist for University Medical Center.
Robertson said by law hospitals are required to treat all emergency patients who come through their doors. Ethically, doctors are bound to treat them and at least stabilize them.
Nuñez asked: "Is it really healthcare if someone is in vegetative state?"
"If, instead, the best you can do is maintain them at this marginal quality of life at least you're preventing them from dying," answered Robertson.
But Robertson said hospitals recommend hospice care when the patient can not live long without a ventilator.
"I don't want to place the whole blame on the hospital because it's really more of a systemic choice our society has made to not provide coverage in these situations," said Robertson.
So how does Cornelio's life and death tug of war today compare to the Terri Schiavo case? Doctors kept her alive from 1998 to 2005. That's because Schiavo's case turned into a legal battle between her husband, who was her legal guardian and her parents.
Schiavo also had insurance coverage and additional resources to pay for her long hospital stay.
Cornelio does not have insurance. The state's Medicare system denied him because he's not a U.S. Citizen.
Robertson said in today's healthcare system putting the burden on loved ones to pull the plug is about money.
"This is one of those tragic choices I don't think there's a super easy answer," said Robertson. "Because on the one hand we want to provide access to care but on the other hand we can't just have costs just go infinitely high."
Bottom line, whether a hospital decides to keep a patient on life support or not has more to do with money and less to do with one's citizenship.