Has society failed US quadriplegic?

Michael Cook
8 Dec 2010
Reproduced with Permission

A man who has been a quadriplegic since he was 3 is the latest focus of right-to-die news in the US. For about 18 months Dan Crews, 27, of Antioch, Illinois, has demanded that his ventilator be removed. But his local hospital has refused. Doctors say that he is depressed and is not capable of making an informed decision. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and ABC News both ran features on Mr Crews late last month emphasing the limitations of his day-to-day life.

"I have no friends. I have no education. No education prospects. No job prospects. I have no love prospects," he told the Journal-Sentinel. "All I want is to no longer live like thisc I feel like I'm the only person in the country who does not have a way or an option to kill myself."

He was swamped with letters, emails and phone calls after his case became public urging him not to die. One woman and her quadriplegic husband want to travel from Oklahoma to visit him in Illinois to persuade him that a life of immobility can be fulfilling. Mr Crews is unconvinced. "It's been very pleasant, but my mood is the same," he says.

His life , as described in the newspapers, seems very dreary. There is little for him to do, they stress, except eat and watch TV. He is socially isolated. His motorised wheelchair has broken down.

... he spends all day watching television - a few hours in the morning in bed, and a few hours sitting upright in a broken chair. Most days he sees only his nurses and his mom. (Crews' parents are divorced and his father is remarried).

A major factor in his pessimism is financial problems. He is running out of the US$4 million he won as a settlement for his case, which was calculated for 20 additional years of life. Bills are mounting up. Medicaid will only cover them when he has exhausted his own funds.

What the media fails to pick up is why Mr Crews' attitude changed. At one stage, like many other people with quadriplegia, he felt far more optimistic. He graduated from high school and earned an associate degree from a local community college. Why has he become so disheartened? He claims that it stems from his poor quality of life and poor prospects for improvement. But is it the divorce of his parents? Is it lack of counselling and psychiatric care? Is it financial stress? As many disability advocates insist, we cannot abandon people. However sketchy the details, it does sound like somehow society has failed Mr Crews. -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov 28; ABC, Nov 30