Nearly a year ago, George Pickering III was lying in a hospital bed on life support. He had suffered a massive stroke after a history of seizures, and had been declared brain-dead. Doctors determined that care was futile and ordered a “terminal wean,” which means they planned to gradually remove George’s life support. The hospital even notified organ donation organizers that George’s body would soon be available for harvesting. Brain death, futile care, and denial of treatment- a list of jargon that is disastrous for countless Texans every year who become victims of Texas’ draconian Advance Directives Act.
George Pickering II was not ready to let Tomball Regional Medical Center decide that his son’s life was no longer worth living. He took drastic action. Pickering wielded a handgun and stood beside his son’s hospital bed, vowing to protect George from the “terminal wean.” He was quickly disarmed by another son, but instigated an hours-long standoff with SWAT members. During the standoff, George III squeezed his father’s hand several times on command, assuring his father that he was not brain-dead. Consequently, George III continued to receive care, and has now recovered and has returned to living life normally.
The two acknowledge that they broke the law, but they hold that the circumstances demanded drastic action. “There was a law broken,” said George III. “But it was broken for all the right reasons. I’m here now because of it.” Indeed, George III would likely have died if his father had not interfered in the doctor’s plan to withdraw treatment. “It’s the duty of a parent to protect your children,” George III continued, “and that’s all he [George’s father] did.”
In a statement regarding the Pickerings, Tomball Regional Medical Center mischaracterized Texas law by insinuating that, as George’s surrogate, his father could have vetoed the hospital’s decision to enforce a terminal wean. The hospital stated: “When a patient’s condition makes them unable to participate in their own care, the appropriate substitute decision-maker has the right to decide whether or not they will move forward with a recommended care plan.” This is unequivocally false. Under current law, that is not the case. In fact, as we saw in the tragic case and death of Chris Dunn at Houston Methodist Hospital last week, patients and their surrogates are powerless over the legal omnipotence granted hospitals by the 1999 Texas Advance Directives Act.
George II was arrested after his standoff and spent most of 2015 in jail. The father and son are happy to finally be reunited. The pair run a small electrical engineering business together. In an emotional interview, George III’s voice cracked as he expressed his gratitude for his father. “Everything good that made me a man is because of that man sitting next to me.”