The director of The Johns Hopkins Hospital medical intensive-care unit (ICU) has resigned from that position under pressure from hospital officials who claimed that he violated patient privacy by cooperating in a series of articles that appeared in The Washington Post last week.
The series, entitled "As They Lay Dying," detailed how doctors make decisions to terminate life-support therapy for hopelessly ill patients.
Dr. Warren Summer, who remains on the medical school faculty and the hospital staff, relinquished his ICU duties on Wednesday, according to a hospital spokesman. Summer declined to comment.
Hospital administrators reportedly criticized Summer for allowing a Post photographer to take pictures in the ICU, and for providing the case history of a hopelessly ill patient whose respirator was eventually shut off.
Summer, who has run the ICU for nine years and was generally praised by colleagues and the Hopkins nursing staff, "exercised poor judgment," according to a statement attributed to Dr. Victor McKusick, his supervisor, in yesterday's Baltimore Sun. McKusick declined to comment to The Post.
Hospital spokesman Jo Clendenon said yesterday, "All I can do is confirm that he Summer has resigned . . . It's an administrative matter that's being handled internally."
Two of the five articles focused on Summer and the Hopkins ICU. Summer, who annually treats about 600 critically ill patients and saves many of their lives, was quoted extensively in two case studies that portrayed the difficulties doctors face in making decisions about continuing or terminating life-prolonging therapy. Eight other Hopkins physicians and a number of nurses also were quoted extensively by name in the two articles.
Summer also was pictured in a series of photographs in The Post showing the withdrawal of a respirator from a comatose patient. Some hospital officials apparently felt that the patient could be identified.
Dr. William Knaus, codirector of the George Washington University Hospital ICU, said that Summer's resignation was unfortunate.
"The risk is that if this is interpreted . . . by the medical community or the public at large that Dr. Summer is being punished for discussing these difficult decisions, then I think this decision could have a negative impact," he said.
"Physicians, I'm afraid, would be less, rather than more, likely to talk openly about this, and from everything I know the public is asking for more frank and open discussion of these critical issues," Knaus added.
A Hopkins physician, Reed Pyeritz, said of Summer's resignation from the ICU: "My personal feeling is that it's a loss to the institution, and if I was ill and required intensive-care management, I would want Warren Summer to be my physician. That hasn't changed."