University of Wisconsin Hospital Sued for Denying Disabled Patients Medical Care

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 18, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

University of Wisconsin Hospital Sued for Denying Disabled Patients Medical Care

by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 18
, 2009

Madison, WI ( — The University of Wisconsin Hospital faces a new lawsuit from disability rights advocates for allegedly withdrawing treatment from two patients with developmental disabilities. The patients had apparent cases of pneumonia, but one of them survived and another died after supposed medical neglect.

In one case, the guardian of a patient pushed for treatment withdrawal and then backtracked. In the other, the parents of a disabled patient, pushed for withdrawal and the patient eventually died.

Disability Rights Wisconsin has filed the lawsuit and notes that Wisconsin law does not allow withdrawal of treatment from patients unless they are dying or in a so-called "persistent vegetative state."

According to a report in the Wisconsin State Journal, that is a prognosis that applied to neither of the patients.

In its lawsuit, Disability Rights wants the University of Wisconsin Hospital to change hospital practices and pay it the $4,700 it spend investigating the cases, plus legal costs.

Attorney Mitch Hagopian, of the disability rights group, told the Journal that he worries UW Hospital doctors are too quick to determine that disabled patients are beyond hope and prematurely ending appropriate medical care and treatment.

“All we want is for them to provide that same great care to developmentally disabled people who are not dying," he said.

Barbara Lyons, the director of Wisconsin Right to Life, talked with about the case.

She said she is not surprised by the news given the battle her group has engaged in with UW Hospital over its plan to do late-term abortions.

"Learning that UW Hospital has been sued for denying care to patients with developmental disabilities who are not dying puts that entity squarely on the slippery slope to devalue the lives of those considered to have no meaning," Lyons said.

"Not only did officials at the hospital approve a plan to perform late-term, elective, dismemberment abortions at one of its facilities, it is now on record as applying the same lack of respect for the lives of those with disabilities," she added.

UW Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Brunette told the Journal that it acted the best interests of both patients and tried to follow the wishes of the families or guardian.

“What is at stake in this case is no less than patients’, parents’ and families’ ability to make private health care decisions in the best interests of the patient,” she said.

Lyons disagrees.

"The statement by UW Hospital that they were acting in the ‘best interests of the patients’ is hollow, given that one of the patients died, and the other reported being subjected to undue pressure to withdraw treatment," she told

Lyons also applauded Bethesda Lutheran Homes in Watertown, which has been shown to not withhold antibiotics from their patients.

"Wisconsin Right to Life commends Disability Rights Wisconsin for raising this important issue on behalf of patients who cannot speak for themselves," continued Lyons.

Related web sites:
Wisconsin Right to Life –

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