Family Still at Odds Over Man Nearly Euthanized at Virginia Hospital

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 29, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Family Still at Odds Over Man Nearly Euthanized at Virginia Hospital

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 29, 2003

Charlottesville, VA ( — The family of a man who was nearly illegally euthanized at the University of Virginia Medical Center is still divided over whether he should receive continued care. The case has the potential to become the next big national debate over euthanasia along with the debate over Terri Schiavo’s life.

As has previously reported, Jason Childress has been in a coma for a month in a half following an automobile accident. Shortly after the accident, UVA doctors told his father Jerry that he would be removed from life support. They had already given up hope.

However, Jerry wanted his son to have more time to fight the odds. He was able to enlist the help of a local attorney who discovered that UVA officials failed to provide Jerry with a two-week advance notice prior to terminating Jason’s life.

Now the battle is in court and Jerry has reluctantly agreed to let a retired judge serve as a guardian ad litem for Jason since the family can’t agree about his care.

Jerry says his son’s pulse and blood pressure jumps when he hears a familiar voice or a NASCAR race on television. Jason was a big fan.

Jerry believes his son needs time to heal following the massive brain damage that left him in the coma. His brother and stepmother agree.

One problem. Jason’s mother — who is divorced from Jerry, his sister and fiancee disagree, putting the two sides at legal odds. They say Jason wouldn’t want to live a debilitating life following such devastating injuries.

No deadline has been established as to when the guardian has to make his decision about Jason’s life.

Regardless of the decision, Jerry has already decided to appeal any decision that would take Jason’s life.

"I’ve come to the realization that he’s going to have some disabilities, but I believe that if Jason did not want to be here, he would not have made it this far," Jerry told the Associated Press. "He loves a challenge."

Herbert A. Pickford III, a retired Circuit Court judge from Charlottesville, has the ultimate decision as guardian.

"I’m talking to the doctors, seeing the patient, talking to the parents and siblings and trying to determine if he’s ever expressed any wishes that would have bearing on the situation," Pickford said in an interview. "Both sides are so far apart."

If a decision is made to removed the ventilator that is keeping Jason alive, he would likely die in a couple of days.

The hospital’s legal snafu and the doctors’ seemingly quick decision to give up on treating Jason has pro-life advocates concerned.

"This case illustrates the increasingly aggressive attitude in favor of non-treatment or termination of treatment that health care providers will now often take," pro-life attorney Tom Marzen tells

Marzen, who heads up the National Legal Center for the Medically Dependent and Disabled, says hospitals should transfer a patient to another facility that will agree to provide treatment before deciding to terminate a patient’s life.