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While Andrea Rubin lay unconscious and severely burned after a car fire, her father told doctors to do everything they could to keep her alive. She would need many surgeries. Her quality of life wouldn’t be the same. Her friends were outraged. They told doctors that Andrea would not want to live that way. While Andrea was being kept alive on a ventilator, her loved ones fought about what would be best for her. In this episode, we explore how medical decisions are made for patients who are incapable of deciding for themselves.

Show Notes

In addition to Andrea Rubin, this episode features interviews with:
Jeffrey Kahn, Andreas C. Dracopolous Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
Monica Gerrek, Co-director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at MetroHealth System (where Andrea was treated)

You can learn more about Andrea’s case here

A similar case to Andrea’s happened in the 1970s. A man named Dax Cowart repeatedly asked doctors to let him die after suffering severe burns. But the doctors continued to treat him against his wishes. Here’s an interview with Mr. Cowart ten years after his accident, where he talks about his experience with the Washington Post. Dr. Gerrek wrote a paper comparing the two cases, and showing how medical decision making for severe burn patients has evolved over the past 50 years. 

For further reading about medical decision making and patient autonomy, visit the Berman Institute’s episode guide

The Greenwall Foundation. Making bioethics integral to decisions in healthcare, policy and research. Learn more at

The Host

Lauren Arora Hutchinson, PhD, MPH

Lauren Arora Hutchinson, host of playing god?, joined the Berman Institute in June 2022 as the inaugural director of the Dracopoulos-Bloomberg iDeas Lab. She was previously a BBC journalist, award-winning audio storyteller,…