WASHINGTON, D.C., March 10, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Rwandan immigrant who survived the genocide of 1994 has now had her life cut off by starvation and dehydration, reportedly because a U.S. hospital affiliated with Georgetown University decided that caring for the woman who lost her health insurance was too expensive.

The New York Times reports that Rachel Nyirahabiyambere, a 58-year-old grandmother and refugee from war-torn Rwanda, has been denied food and water since Feb. 19 after her feeding tube was removed.

“It’s all about money,” son Jerome Ndayishimiye, 33, told the Times.

“Now we are powerless spectators, just watching our mother die,” he said. “In our culture, we would never sentence a person to die from hunger.”

Unlike the Terri Schiavo case, every one of Nyirahabiyambere’s family members has been pleading for her right to live. Since last April, Nyirahabiyambere had been severely disabled after suffering a stroke. For eight months, she had been under the care of Georgetown University Hospital, a non-profit entity run by the MedStar Health Corporation and affiliated with the eponymous Catholic university. 

But the Times reports that the hospital, frustrated by the woman’s lack of insurance and inability to pay her medical bills, sought a court in Alexandria, Virginia to appoint a guardian for Nyirahabiyambere who would take the grandmother off their hands, on the basis that the family would not make a decision.

The Times reports that Nyirahabiyambere’s sons – immigrants who fled the violence in Rwanda and earned their way from menial jobs to master’s degrees – lost control of their mother’s situation when Judge Nolan B. Dawkins of Alexandria Circuit Court appointed attorney Andrea Sloan as her guardian, despite an apparent conflict of interest: Sloan was the guardian recommended by the attorney for Georgetown University Hospital, even though the family had asked for an independent attorney to represent their mother’s interests.

The Times reports that Sloan then transferred the mother to a nursing home in Millersville, Maryland. The hospital then agreed to pay the costs of nursing home care – but the financial burden assumed by Georgetown University Hospital in that situation was also shortlived. Sloan made arrangements to put Nyirahabiyambere in hospice care and have her feeding tube withdrawn, leaving her to starve to death.

Sloan explained to the Times that the family did not have a right to consume hospital resources that might be allocated to others with better chances of recovery.

“Hospitals cannot afford to allow families the time to work through their grieving process by allowing the relatives to remain hospitalized until the family reaches the acceptance stage, if that ever happens,” Andrea Sloan told the Times in an e-mail. “Generically speaking, what gives any one family or person the right to control so many scarce health care resources in a situation where the prognosis is poor, and to the detriment of others who may actually benefit from them?”

The Times reports that one of Nyirahabiyambere sons protested in a letter to Sloan that “Ending someone’s life by hunger is morally wrong and unrecognized in the culture of the people of Rwanda.”

Sloan, however, responded that she was trying to understand “your culture” and asked flippantly, “Feeding tubes are not part of your culture, are they?”

She said that unless they could prove their mother would like to live “with a feeding tube, in diapers, with no communication with anyone and in a nursing home” that she would not reinstate the feeding tube.

The Times notes that Nyirahabiyambere, the wife of a Baptist minister, came to the United States after surviving the horrors of the Rwandan genocide and violence in refugee camps that divided her family, made her a widow, and forced her to survive in the jungle for a time. Her sons, who became U.S. citizens, brought her to America, where she found work that gave her health care benefits.

Nyirahabiyambere, however, lost her health insurance because she left her job to follow her oldest son to Virginia and help take care of his grandchildren. Generally, U.S. health insurance is employer-based, and not portable for an individual that switches jobs.

Georgetown University Hospital, which says on its website that they provide “physicial and spiritual comfort to patients and families in the Jesuit tradition of cura personalis – care of the person,” declined to tell the Times why they had washed their hands of Nyirahabiyambere’s case and omitted to intervene in Sloan’s course of action.

LifeSiteNews.com contacted the Maryland nursing home Wednesday where Nyirahabiyambere resided, but a spokeswoman said no one would be able to talk about her case, or even confirm if she were alive or dead.

Bobby Schinder of the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network told LSN that he was trying to establish contact with the family, but admitted that at this late stage there might be little that could be done.

Contact information:

Georgetown University Hospital
3800 Reservoir Road, NW
Washington, DC 20007
202-444-2000
202-342-2400
Email: http://www.georgetownuniversityhospital.org/body.cfm?id=573
(scroll to bottom of page for email form)