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.
Span’s article quotes from healthcare experts who have noted that these types of suits are starting to gain some legal traction in the courts. While the article mentions that no plaintiff has recovered a judgment in this type of suit, it does indicate that settlements continue to occur. If the Maryland case actually goes to trial later this year, it should provide a good barometer of how a jury would view this scenario.
Health care providers are conditioned to think of themselves as life savers. Many times, they absolutely are. However, a provider’s ethical and moral obligation to abide by the wishes of his or her patient, along with this new legal trend, reveals that a saved life is not always the best outcome.
Ms. Span’s article can be found at the following link