For many years, medical providers have been faced with the task of untangling the web of medical and ethical issues surrounding end of life decisions. More recently, the profession has successfully navigated the problem by pushing for patients and the general public to complete healthcare directives or other documentation clarifying their wishes. However, this most recent movement has created an interesting twist on the same old problem – what happens when a medical provider fails to actually follow a patient’s written directive?
Paula Span, a writer for the New York Times, recently published an article documenting the new trend of lawsuits brought against medical providers for ignoring a directive and actually saving a patient’s life. Among other specific accounts, her article documents a Maryland woman who had a Medical Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment stating that she did not want life saving care if her heart or lungs failed. When she was found blue in her bed at the hospital, staff revived her through CPR and defibrillation, saving her life but breaking her ribs, collapsing one of her lungs, and ignoring her wishes in the process. The patient and her family brought suit for a variety of damages, including for recovery of the cost of the hospital bills she would have never incurred. The case is set to go to trial in November of this year.