Imagine you've been in the hospital for six days. You are suffering from a growing tumor in your spine, a cancerous growth that, with each passing hour, is taking away more and more of your normal bodily functions. You've stopped being able to control your right hand. Soon, you may lose the power to walk. Luckily, you live in a country housing the finest hospitals in the entire world. You're safe. You'll be cared for. Unless of course, you're undocumented.
Surgical patient Maria Sanchez of Texas faced this disheartening truth last month during her painfully abrupt stay at the University of Texas Medical Branch's John Sealy Hospital. Sanchez was admitted as a patient on January 5th, seeking treatment from an advanced tumor that was causing an incredible amount of discomfort. Sanchez had already received some treatment and minor surgery during her stay, but as she was preparing to undergo extensive surgery, she was approached by a Spanish-speaking doctor.
It was decided that Maria Sanchez did not deserve the type of care so readily disposable to other, "non-illegal" patients. Instead she would be discharged, thrown out the door. The doctor told her to go back to Mexico. Problem solved.
Already, UT's John Sealy Hospital is under fire from several organizations for its treatment (or lack of treatment) of a patient with a potentially life-threatening condition. Several doctors who have come forward to review the case confirm Maria's discharge is a serious ethics violation. Hospitals are ethically obligated to treat patients they have admitted. This commitment was all but ignored in Sanchez's case. The hospital threw her out when she needed them the most.
Photo credit: José Goulão
Suffering from a severe illness and in need of medical care, she was nonetheless sent away by this hospital. Hospital staff told her to go back to Mexico. She was terribly ill, but because she was undocumented, she had no right to treatment.
I write to you today asking you to make sure something like this doesn't happen again. Undocumented immigrants are not "aliens," or some other kind of derogatory, inhuman label. They are human beings, and when they need urgent medical care, it is ethically, morally wrong to deny them that treatment.
I ask you you take responsibility for what has happened, and what continues to happen to undocumented immigrants in desperate need of care. UTMB must immediately issue a policy stating that all patients will be cared for regardless of immigration status, or the state legislature must take action to pass a law requiring treatment of as Texas residents.