Over the past few years, there have been several news reports about families fighting against doctors and hospitals to keep their loved ones alive. Sadly, even when someone suffers from irreversible brain damage, making it impossible to sustain life without support, it is beyond painful for families to make the decision to let the individual go.
However, there are cases where patients have hope, even if it’s small. Two such stories touched hearts around the world. These patients had a chance at life by receiving an experimental treatment. In those cases, medical professionals disagreed. Taking the cases through the court system, the doctors and hospitals won. They turned off life support only for the patients to die and the families to grieve.
The first and most critical step that a family in this situation needs to do is hire a knowledgeable and compassionate attorney. The battle between medical professionals and families comes down to several factors, including the type and severity of injury or illness, the patient’s long-term prognosis, potential quality of life, aftercare, and continuing medical costs.
By nature, people will fight for their loved ones even in dire situations. Choosing to take someone off life support is by far the most difficult thing a family can do. Albeit, there are times when that decision is the right one. What makes this situation so difficult is that in the US, withholding and withdrawing life support is perfectly legal. This has to do with informed consent and informed refusal, which means that medical professionals cannot initiate treatment without the patient’s approval or that of their surrogate, excluding an emergency situation.
Even though there are laws in place for taking someone off life support, for families, the unwanted action seems cruel and inhumane. Keep in mind that both statutory and case law regarding the limitations of treatment that sustains life varies from one state to the next. For that reason, families dealing with this situation need an attorney that specializes in such cases in the state where the patient resides.
Something else important to consider is that while withholding and withdrawing life support has approval from the US Supreme Court, different physicians, even within the same state, have unique concepts of the law. However, even under objection in some instances, the Supreme Court’s ruling serves as the final word.
Hope for the Hopeless
On a positive note, in looking at the history of legal cases involving taking someone off life support, most courts have uniformly ordered continued treatment during the period that medical professionals and families dispute the decision. Judges also typically appear unwilling to rule a patient to die. At the same time, judges take care not to punish doctors and hospitals who act cautiously and stay within professional standards.
If you have a loved one on life support and need to fight against a medical team or facility, there are two things working in your favor. First, an attorney who knows the law will do everything in his or her power to give you the best chance of winning. Second, you can garner media attention about your case, not only to bring the situation to the public eye, but also to put pressure on the treating physicians and hospitals.