Man in center of end-of-life treatment debate dies at Houston Methodist Hospital

HOUSTON – A man whose end-of-life treatment sparked a national debate has died at Houston Methodist Hospital, a  family friend confirms. 

Chris Dunn was transferred to Methodist more than two months ago. Medical experts did not expect Dunn to live long and thought the family needed to explore end-of-life options, but a compelling cell phone video had pro-life activists shouting otherwise. 

Dunn, 46, died around 6 a.m. Wednesday.

The family said it will release a statement about Dunn's death later Wednesday.

Houston Methodist Hospital released a statement Wednesday morning that read: "Houston Methodist Hospital extends its thoughts and prayers to the family of Chris Dunn, who passed away this morning. We offer our deepest condolences at this difficult time. While we cannot share private health information, Houston Methodist and the Dunn family were awaiting a decision by the court regarding guardianship and who is authorized to make end-of-life medical decisions for Chris. We understand how difficult it is when a loved one is gravely ill and medical decisions must be made. Our compassionate physicians and staff provided active life-sustaining medical care during Chris’ entire stay in the hospital. Houston Methodist is honored to have served Chris and his family in a spiritual environment of caring."

Texas Right to Life on Wednesday also released a statement that read in part, "One month after Houston Methodist Hospital determined that Chris’s life was not worth living and that his condition was not even worth diagnosing or treating, Chris succumbed to his illness.  We commend Chris’s mother, Evelyn, and the other family members who labored tirelessly to protect Chris from death imposed by the hospital and legally sanctioned by the draconian Texas Advance Directives Act.  Through Chris’s illness and disability, Evelyn never lost sight of the value of Chris’s life.  Texas Right to Life is honored to have played some small role in comforting Chris and Evelyn as they endured this tragic circumstance."

Center of debate

Dunn's family used a YouTube video to argue that he can communicate.

"You can ask him questions. Yes or no. He'll answer nodding yes or no," Dunn's sister, Holly Gomez, said.

She said her brother was a healthy 46-year-old whose life took a nose-dive in October.

"There was no definitive diagnosis of what was wrong with him, outside of there's a mass on his pancreas," Gomez said.

She said the hospital wanted them to make a decision on Dunn's next steps, which includes Methodist helping the family transfer him to a new hospital.

"Which is a very difficult thing to do for someone who's not in the medical field," Gomez said.

But it's a legal option the hospital can give whenever they feel they are out of options.

The Texas Right to Life group, who is backing the family, disagrees with the law that allows that decision.

"It just puts a dangerous process in place by which the hospital can completely ignore the patient or the family's wishes," Emily Horne, legislative associate with Texas Right to Life, said.

Houston Methodist Hospital said in a statement, "We are providing the best possible care to the patient and throughout his time in the hospital, our physicians and staff have provided active life-sustaining medical care. We are working with the courts to get guidance on who has legal guardianship of the patient."

Normally all of this is decided by a legal guardian, but even that is controversial in the case because Dunn's divorced parents disagree on whether this was the end of his fight, or if it had just begun.

"His dad agrees with the hospital and we disagree with the hospital," Gomez said.

Gomez said her brother had gotten very weak recently, which is why they did not want to transfer hospitals. They were afraid he's not strong enough to make it.