Paralyzed deer hunter chooses to end life support

32-year-old suffered severe spinal injury; family had him brought out of sedation so he could choose his own fate
Associated Press
Nov 6, 2013

Tim Bowers got to decide for himself whether he wanted to live or die.

When the avid outdoorsman was badly hurt last weekend in a hunting accident, doctors said he would be paralyzed and could be on a ventilator for life. His family had a unique request: Could he be brought out of sedation to hear his prognosis and decide what he wanted to do?

Doctors said yes, and Bowers chose to take no extra measures to stay alive.

"We just asked him, 'Do you want this?' And he shook his head emphatically no," his sister, Jenny Shultz, said of her brother, who was often found hunting, camping or helping his father on his northeastern Indiana farm.

The 32-year-old was deer hunting Saturday when he fell 16 feet from a tree and suffered a severe spinal injury that paralyzed him from the shoulders down. Doctors thought he might never breathe on his own again.

Courts have long upheld the rights of patients to refuse life support. But Bowers' case was unusual because it's often family members or surrogates, not the patient, who make end-of-life decisions.

Medical ethicists say it's rare for someone to decide on the spot to be removed from life support, especially so soon after an injury. But standard medical practice is to grant more autonomy to patients.

The heart-wrenching call to remove life support is more often left to relatives. Even when a patient has outlined his wishes for end-of-life care, the decision can tear families apart.

Shultz, an intensive care nurse in Las Vegas, has seen it happen in her job. But her medical training also meant she understood the severity of her brother's injuries. His C3, C4 and C5 vertebrae were crushed.

Though his brain was not injured, his body was irreparably broken. Surgery could fuse the vertebrae, but that would only allow Bowers to sit up. He would never walk or hold his baby. He might live the rest of his life in a rehabilitation hospital, relying on a machine to help him breathe.

Shultz said her brother — the youngest of four siblings — wanted to talk but couldn't because the ventilator tube was still in place. If the tube were removed, she told him, doctors were not sure how long he would live. But when she asked if he wanted the tube reinserted if he struggled, Bowers shook his head no.

Doctors asked Bowers the same questions and got the same responses. The tube came out Sunday.

The last five hours of Bowers' life were spent with family and friends, about 75 of whom gathered in the hospital waiting room. They prayed and sang songs.

Through it all, Shultz said, her brother never wavered in his decision to die.

"I just remember him saying so many times that he loved us all and that he lived a great life," she said. "At one point, he was saying, 'I'm ready. I'm ready.'"

Patients often change their minds after they have had time to meet with spiritual advisers and family, said Art Caplan, director of the medical ethics program at New York University's Langone Medical Center in New York City.

Dr. Paul Helft, director of the Charles Warren Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics in Indianapolis, said cases in which the patient makes the decision usually involve a debilitating illness such as Lou Gehrig's disease, which compromises the body but leaves the mind intact.

"We give patients autonomy to make all kinds of decisions about themselves," he said. "We've recognized that it's important that patients have the right to self-determination."

Shultz said her family had an idea what her brother would want because he had previously talked with his wife, Abbey, whom he married Aug. 3, about never wanting to spend his life in a wheelchair.

She knows that not everyone would make the same decision. But she's thankful her brother was able to choose for himself.

"No outcome was ever going to be the one that we really want," she said. "But I felt that he did it on his terms in the end."

 

Comments

Home Boy

God bless!

AEversole

Super sad

Stop It

HE chose. I see no problem. Sing with the angels, brother Tim...

dorothy gale

Very glad that everyone involved did the right thing, no matter how painful and sad, and let him choose for himself.

worddrow811

I was on life-support once, briefly, and now carry a DNR card because of it. The family came up with a unique way to respect their loved-one and more importantly, they put his wishes above their own.

Why is everyone so hel-bent on fighting a natural outcome of passing on to a heavenly home?

G_Richardson

A very sad story and my thoughts go out to him and his loved ones.
The choice this man made was a very courageous one and definatly the hardest choice anyone has every had to make ever. This should teach us all something, Namely that our petty knit picking at the choices of one another is just that, Petty. Puts it into perspective in a real and tangible way.

sandtown born a...

What a sad sad deal for any family to go through. My thoughts are with them!!! Hunters please be safe and wear a safety harness it could save your life !

OMGNEWS

reading signs... so that life support was so bad huh seems to have worked because you are alive now because of it. Is your life that miserable you would rather die than have life support? If it was me I would've wanted to wait a month just to make sure before pulling the plug. People are "hel-bent" because death is scary and there is no guarantee what happens when we go.

worddrow811

Yes it was bad, but it was temporary and I do not want to go through it again. My life is just fine, thank you very much and do not put words into my opinions. Death is not scary and everyone who thinks it is may want to consider that just being born is scary from the infants perspective.

I, for one, think we should stop being selfish and if someone chooses to leave this plane of existance, let them go home to all their other relatives who have gone before them. Children aren't afraid to die and we are taught the fear as we grow. I can assure you, there is no thing to fear which may be why I'm still here. Pass it on.

thinkagain

In Matthew 7:13-14 Christ clearly taught that not everyone will go to Heaven, and that some will go to Hell.

In John 3:3-5 Christ explained how a man can enter the kingdom of God.