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Houston Chronicle

March 21, 2001, page 26

Family seeks to block doctor, hospital from taking patient off life support

Sweeny surgeon Joseph Ndiyob, comatose for about two months, would prefer to die than continue to be kept alive on life support, his attending physician testified Tuesday.

“Joe is a very proud man. He has a lot of dignity,” said Dr. Salim Dabaghi. “I’m sure, knowing him, he would not like to be as he is now.”

Ndiyob’s family is seeking a temporary injunction that would block Dabaghi and Memorial Hermann Hospital from taking Ndiyob off life support. State District Judge Levi Benton is expected to decide today.

Ndiyob, 59, had a heart attack Dec. 29, and his heart has stopped five other times in the hospital. He has been comatose and lost all higher brain functions in mid-January. His heart, lungs, kidneys and digestive system no longer work without medication, life support or medical treatment.

Dabaghi testified that he performed a triple bypass on Ndiyob in 1998 and has been a friend for a few years.

Six specialists concurred that Ndiyob’s life should not be prolonged through extraordinary measures, Dabaghi testified. He said Ndiyob has no chance of recovery and would never walk, talk and work as a surgeon even if he regained consciousness.

By requiring doctors to keep Ndiyob on life support, his relatives would be forcing the physicians to take actions they ethically and morally oppose, Dabaghi said.

“If he was my brother, I would not want him to go through this,” he said. “The poor guy, he needs to rest.”

Joseph Tanifor, Ndiyob’s nephew, testified that he and his other relatives believe God makes all things and only God should take away human life. The relatives have looked unsuccessfully for a hospital that would accept Ndiyob as a transfer patient.

Testifying by phone from Los Angeles, Ndiyob’s brother, Ted, said a Memorial Hermann doctor advised him that his brother would be nothing like his former self even if he regained consciousness.

Euthanasia isn’t practiced in this country, Ted Ndiyob said. “I told (the doctor) that this was not Nazi Germany. Even if (his brother) were mentally retarded, we are willing to accept him for who he is.”

The hospital is relying on a 1999 state law that allows an attending physician and the hospital ethics board to override the wishes of a family opposed to taking a relative off life support.

Dabaghi said he would not pull the plug on Ndiyob, but would stop dialysis treatment and wean him from a medication that has kept his heart working. Ndiyob probably would die in a week or so, he said.