Joel Zuniga of Jacksonville, Florida, survived a gunshot wound to the head and, remarkably, began breathing on his own just two weeks after his injury. Life Legal Defense Foundation reports that immediately following the wound, Joel, 33, was unable to breath without the assistance of a ventilator. After some time on a ventilator, Joel was removed from that particular medical equipment to determine if he would be able to breathe on his own. Amazingly, he did. As he continued to make progress, making eye contact with family members and showing signs of recognition, he appeared to be moving toward a remarkable recovery.
Unfortunately, the hospital overseeing Joel’s care has decided that Joel’s quality of life is too inferior to continue care. Last week they moved to end nutrition and hydration. The hospital’s decision contradicts the wishes of Joel’s family and jeopardizes Joel’s life. After surviving what no one would have thought possible, Joel faces death by the excruciating process of starvation and dehydration.
Reports indicate that the most recent development may not be the first time the hospital attempted to end Joel’s life. According to one report, Joel’s family objected to removing Joel from the ventilator and the decision was made solely by the hospital. All accounts of the case agree that Joel likely survived being taken off the ventilator because Father David Nix, the Zunigas’ priest and former paramedic, advised the family to ensure that Joel was not given a heavy dose of narcotics before the ventilator was removed. The hospital complied, and Joel had a greater chance of successfully breathing on his own because he was not impaired by heavy narcotics.
Father Nix said in a statement to Life Legal Defense Foundation,
When he was taken off the ventilator, he immediately began breathing on his own. Joel is even able to make eye contact and he understands us. Joel’s projected “quality-of-life” is the reason his physician has decided to withhold all food from this patient. Happily, Alex, his brother recorded this conversation of clear euthanasia. The staff at Memorial Hospital is starving him to death and we are so thankful that Legal Defense Foundation is willing to fight for Joel’s life.
In reacting to the shocking story on Facebook, many people drew parallels to the tragic murder of Terri Schiavo. Like Terri’s case, Joel’s life is threatened because of the subjective quality of life judgments of the doctors who should be aiding his recovery. As in Terri’s case, Joel’s closest family members are fighting for his life. As Alexandra Snyder of Life Legal Defense Foundation demonstrated, Joel’s case is particularly alarming because Joel’s advocates, his parents, do not speak English. The hospital appears to be taking advantage of their marginalized position to force an imposed death against the family’s clear wishes.
Both Terri and Joel fought for their lives in Florida, but patients in Texas also face anti-Life pressure from hospitals. Chris Dunn was the center of a shocking case that garnered international attention when a Houston hospital attempted to end his care against his wishes. What is most notable about Chris’s case is that Chris could be any Texan. Texas law gives hospital bureaucracy the power to make life and death decisions for vulnerable Texans. Under the 10-Day Law, doctors have the power to withdraw life-sustaining care, even if ending care contradicts the spoken or written directives of the patient and his or her legal surrogate. The doctor’s decision only needs to be approved by a hospital committee, usually comprised of hospital employees and physicians, few of whom have interacted or cared for the patient whose life will be decided by this futility review committee. Once the committee rubberstamps the decision to terminate care, the patient is allotted a mere 10 days to arrange a transfer to another facility.
Texas Right to Life will not compromise in the long road to end this anti-Life law in Texas. Patients like Joel, Terri, and Chris deserve the Right to Life, and our laws must reflect that protection.