"The right to medical treatment without judgement"

About: Toowoomba Hospital

(as a relative),

Two years ago my sister in law was in the advanced stages of cancer.  

She had chosen not to receive conventional treatment and had spent the last 2 years of her life at home with her husband, my brother.       

My brother has an autistic type of disability that affects his social and communication skills and he relied on his wife for pretty much most decisions. It’s not immediately obvious when you see him, but when he engages with you, you see something very different is happening for him in the way he processes information and makes sense of his world. He talks to anyone and everyone about his special topics, no matter what is happening around him.
My mother was recently out of hospital as she had fallen and broken her femur and had a haematoma on the brain, so I was visiting from Sydney to support mum. 
I visited my sister in law at home at around 5 pm and she was fighting for every breath.  It was obvious to me that she needed to urgently go to hospital because she looked like she was dying.  With her permission, I called the ambulance. The ambulance guys said that she might not die that night, but that if she wanted to be comfortable she should allow them to take her to hospital and so she agreed. 
She asked me to come with her and help her because she needed someone to advocate for her and look after my brother, so we all (my  sister, her husband, my brother and myself ) accompanied her to the hospital.   
She arrived at emergency at around 6 pm.   A young male doctor attended and accessed my sis-in-law’s records. First thing he asked her was whether her decision to accept blood still stood.  My sister in law is one of Jehovah's Witnesses and did not want to take blood.  She said yes.  It was obvious that he knew she was dying and needed to be admitted to palliative care. There was no treatment now that was going to help, so I felt that to ask her about blood seemed fairly merciless and useless to me. 
She was sitting up in the uncomfortable emergency bed, fighting for every breath and clearly dying.  She just needed some human decency and to be admitted to palliative care to make her as comfortable as possible.
My brother started trying to explain his wife’s decisions in the only way that he could and in my opinion the doctor got even ruder.  My brother has made sense of his wife's cancer by deciding who is to blame and was explaining his theories to the doctor.  
I asked the doctor if I could speak to him privately to tell him about my brother’s disability and he refused to let me speak to him.  He said I shouldn't be there, and that he would have me thrown out if I said anything more.  My sister in law said that she wanted me to stay as her husband has communication problems and she needed me.   
We were all in shock and I faced the prospect of her returning home and dying in the house with my brother being completely traumatised.  I respectfully asked if we could have another doctor review her case. They said they would get someone else for us.
We waited in emergency for approximately 6 hours before a new person attended us. My sister in law was fighting for every breath, and sat in the emergency bed. People walked past us for hours, and at one point a nurse took pity on us and gave me a blanket because it was freezing in there and offered us a cup of tea.
No one came. We all just sat there and waited with her. She alternatively slept and slumped over on the hard bed.  
Finally another young doctor came and he looked at her briefly before saying we will admit you to palliative care. She was admitted that morning at 6 am where she received very good care and died the next evening with all her family around her. Her funeral was attended by around 200 people from the local community. She was well loved and had helped many people in her short life.
Toowoomba Emergency was the worst hospital experience I have ever had. I believe she was judged because of her religious beliefs and because she had chosen care that they did not agree with. What happened at Toowoomba Base Hospital Emergency Department has scarred everyone in my family and traumatised my brother. 
She had been told 2 years ago that she only had 6 months to live.  She had lived at home with very little pain on her own terms and with my brother who needed her.  She paid for all her own medications and treatments.  She just needed help to die in hospital rather than in bed next to my brother.   
I thought everyone in Australia had the right to make decisions over their own body and in line with their own beliefs and still receive non judgemental medical care from a hospital. 
In my opinion, Toowoomba hospital has proved that to be wrong.

Responses

Response from Patient Opinion Australia

The following response has been published by Patient Opinion on behalf of Toowoomba Hospital:

The Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service strives to provide safe patient-centred care at all times. We value feedback as it helps us improve our service to individuals and their families or carers as well as the broader community. We encourage people to get in touch with our consumer liaison team if they have identified areas where improvements can be made. Contact details are: Consumer_Liaison_DDHHS@health.qld.gov.au or phone 07 4616 6152.

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