Texas Hospital Ethics Panel to Send Sick and Elderly COVID-19 Patients “home to die”

The Starr County Health Authority has announced the formation of an ethics committee that will determine which patients infected with COVID-19 are eligible to receive care in the border county’s lone hospital. Patients determined to have too low of a survival potential will not be admitted to Starr County Memorial Hospital and instead be sent home. This unprecedented response to COVID-19 in Texas represents a critical moment for caution to ensure we honor the lives of all Texans while battling this novel virus.

Triage decision-making can be a necessary component of providing health care in mass casualty events such as a pandemic. Our medical resources are finite, and extreme circumstances can limit what medical institutions are able to provide to patients. The Pro-Life approach to this dilemma is ensuring that allocation decisions are only based on a patient’s prognosis and likelihood of treatment success, not age, disability, or the patient’s future “quality of life.”

Some aspects of the Health Authority’s announcement raise concerns over unjust and unnecessary rationing. First, county officials indicated “those deemed too fragile or sick or elderly” will be among those turned away and sent back home, but these individuals aren’t necessarily likely to die from COVID-19 or even more likely to die than an average patient. These guidelines could discriminate against a patient simply because of their disability or age. Pro-Life principles require that all triage decisions must be based solely on objective clinical indicators about the likely outcome of the treatment without prejudice.

The second red flag about the Health Authority’s decision is that patients will be returned home rather than to seek medical care elsewhere in Texas. County officials claim this is necessary because of the lack of ICU beds in Texas and neighboring states. However, according to the Department of State Health Services, Texas presently has over 1,000 available ICU beds. ICU capacity is once again expanding at the Texas Medical Center in Houston. If patients and families desire curative treatment for COVID-19, why can’t they be advised to seek treatment at another facility that has capacity?

Texas Right to Life will continue to monitor any updates to Starr County’s situation. In addition to advocating for sound Pro-Life policies, Texas Right to Life assists vulnerable patients facing anti-Life medical ethics in health care. If you or anyone you know encounters denial of medical treatment related to COVID-19, please fill out this form on our patient portal or call 713-782-5433. We have fought for hundreds of patients and loved ones to ensure that their life-and-death medical decisions are honored. Our Pro-Life values must never be suspended, even during a global pandemic.

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