Peter J. Smith

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Feeding tube restored to immigrant woman unable to pay Jesuit hospital

Peter J. Smith
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WASHINGTON, D.C., March 11, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Rwandan immigrant woman and survivor of the horrors of the 1994 genocide who had her feeding tube removed because a U.S. Catholic-affiliated hospital deemed her care too expensive, apparently will not die of starvation and dehydration thanks to a court order and the efforts of her children.

Rachel Nyirahabiyambere, a 58-year-old grandmother and refugee from war-torn Rwanda, had been denied food and water since Feb. 19 after her feeding tube was removed by order of her court-appointed guardian. But 21 days later, Rachel is still alive, and now Judge Nolan Dawkins has ordered Rachel’s feeding tube reinserted at the request of her family’s new legal counsel.

Casey Mattox, Legal Counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, won a temporary injunction preventing Rachel’s legal guardian Andrea Sloan from control over Rachel’s food and fluids, and even her remains in the event of her passing. A copy of Dawkin’s order obtained by LifeSiteNews.com requires Sloan to have Rachel’s feeding tube immediately reinstated by her heath care providers “unless and until there is a further order from this court.”

“Innocent life deserves to be protected. ADF is pleased that the court agreed to put the brakes on this rush to intentionally starve a defenseless woman to death,” said Mattox. “It’s a simple decision to respect the family’s wishes and protect the life of this Rwandan genocide survivor.”

Rachel’s family sought legal assistance from the ADF against Sloan, who was appointed at the recommendation of the attorney for Georgetown University Hospital.

The New York Times first broke the plight of Rachel Nyirahabiyambere, a Rwandan grandmother, who once had to survive in the jungle in order to escape the genocide and later the violence in the refugee camps. Rachel’s sons immigrated to the United States as refugees, where they worked their way up from menial jobs to obtain masters degrees.

Rachel’s sons brought her to the United States, where she found work that gave her health care benefits, but she lost those benefits by leaving 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.

Rachel was thus without insurance when she suffered a severely disabling stroke. She was cared for by Georgetown University Hospital without remuneration for eight months, until the hospital convinced a court in December to remove guardianship from the family to a lawyer recommended by the hospital’s attorney.

Andrea Sloan took over as Rachel’s guardian, and removed Rachel to a nursing home in Millersville, Maryland. The Times reported that the hospital then offered to pay for Rachel’s nursing home care, but had never extended this offer to Rachel’s family before Sloan took over as guardian.

At that point Sloan decided to remove Rachel’s feeding tube on the basis that Rachel was consuming too many health care resources to stay alive.

She explained her reasoning for having the feeding tube removed to 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?”

LSN has learned that while ADF is providing legal counsel for the family of Rachel Nyirahabiyambere, the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network is giving non-legal assistance to the family as well.

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