Family of Man Victimized by Medical Discrimination Sues Hospital

In June of 2020 Michael Hickson, a quadriplegic 46-year-old man, husband, and father of five, was starved and left without adequate treatment by St. David’s South Austin Medical Center (SDMC) and his court appointed guardian, an organization called Family Eldercare. 

Michael’s family, with the law firm Robbins, Salomon & Patt, has now filed a multi-count wrongful death lawsuit against SDMC and two of the hospital’s physicians, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division.

Michael Hickson passed away after being deprived of all nutrition, hydration, and treatment for six days.

His death was a clear instance of a hospital disregarding the wishes of patient and family and instead targeting a disabled man on the basis of his disability.  

Though Michael Hickson was initially given a 70% chance to live, was conscious and responsive, and though his condition was improving with treatment, he was ultimately starved and left without adequate treatment. 

The hospital’s diabolical actions, upon their own admission, were committed not because of his treatable illnesses of sepsis and pneumonia but because of his supposed low quality of life due to being a quadriplegic. 

While Michael’s wife, Melissa Hickson, and another family member were litigating in court who would be Michael’s permanent guardian, a judge named Austin-area Family Eldercare as temporary guardian over Michael. Family Eldercare fully complied with the hospital’s decisions to starve Michael. 

In an attempt to save Michael’s life Texas Right to Life and Melissa made repeated efforts to contact Family Eldercare, but these attempts were completely ignored. 

Michael’s family was completely locked out from any medical decision-making ability. The hospital did not even allow the family to communicate with Michael over FaceTime. 

When Melissa pressed the hospital for answers about her husband she was told “as of right now, his quality of life – he doesn’t have much of one.” 

In the minds of SDMC and Family Eldercare, ceasing all treatments for his illnesses and depriving Michael of all basic sustenance was justified because of his low quality of Life. 

One of the most alarming aspects of Michael’s case was that Texas law allowed a temporary guardian the power to make permanent, here life-ending, decisions with absolutely no input from the family.

To correct this wrong Texas Right to Life supported HB 3063 by Representative John Smithee (R-Amarillo) during the Regular Session of the 87th Texas Legislature. HB 3063 sought to prevent third party guardians and corporate entities, which often do not have the patient’s best interests in mind, or even the wherewithal to stand up to biased doctors’ quality of life judgements, from making such personal, life-and-death choices. 

HB 3063 failed to pass after meeting staunch opposition from professional guardianship organizations, the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and even the so-called Pro-Life group, Texas Alliance for Life. 

The lawsuit now filed by Michael’s family asserts “multiple counts of disability-based discrimination, gross medical negligence, wrongful death and deprivation of Mr. Hickson’s constitutional right to life, against SDMC and two of its physicians.” 

We applaud Mrs. Hickson for bringing light to this issue in the midst of her family’s tragedy, and applaud the law firm of Robbins, Salomon & Patt for seeking justice for Mr. Hickson.

This type of deadly discrimination has already taken hold in European countries to disastrous consequences. We must stop and utterly root out lethal discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability from within the delivery of healthcare in our state and country. Texans and Americans must be vocal at every opportunity to prevent the same type of discrimination from becoming commonplace here.



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