Dr. Daniel F. Gunther died from toxic asphyxia from inhaling car exhaust, said Greg Hewett of the King County Medical Examiner's Office. His time of death was listed as 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 30. The 49-year-old was a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington.
In 2004, Gunther and his colleague Dr. Douglas S. Diekema performed a hysterectomy, removed the breast tissue and started hormone treatment to permanently halt the growth of a 6-year-old disabled girl so her parents could continue to care for her at home. The doctors wrote about the procedure, which was performed at Children's Hospital, in the October 2006 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
News of the procedure last fall sparked debate about the ethics of the treatment both online and in the medical community. One poster on MSNBC.com's message boards called the procedure "offensive if not perverse." Others supported the decision: " I feel like everything [the parents] are doing is intended to be in the best interest of their child."
This is particularly upsetting for me, not just because I supported Gunther during the controversy, but because of the possibility that his suicide was wrought by undue pressure exacted on him by overzealous and vocal disability groups.
Back in January when the Ashley controversy was at its peak, Dr. Gunther joined the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies site. In reference to my article, "Helping Families Care for the Helpless," he wrote to us:
[T]he article on the IEET site was one of the first sane and rational responses I came across. All of us here appreciate your support. I am hoping that in time more rational voices will increasingly make themselves heard, while the more reactionary ones fade away.Evidently this didn't happen. What a shame.
According to this Seattle Times article, friends and family of Dr. Gunther insist that the suicide was not fueled by the Ashley controversy.