LIVING WILLS: Hospital Not Liable for ‘Wrongful Life’
A federal judge in Philadelphia dismissed a "sad and novel" case Monday, ruling that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment does not prevent private hospitals from ignoring a patient's proactive wish that no "extraordinary care" be given to prolong his life. In 1993, Dr. Marshal Klavan, an OB/GYN at Crozer- Chester Medical Center who feared being incapacitated by a stroke like his father, indicated in a living will that he wanted no "extraordinary care measures" in case of serious injury or disease. He wrote, "I expect my family, doctors and everyone concerned with my care to regard themselves as legally and morally bound to act in accord with my wishes." But when he tried to commit suicide four years later, hospital staff revived him and, after initially agreeing to terminate treatment, "reneged when his condition worsened, resorting once again to a ventilator and medicine to keep Klavan alive." Philadelphia lawyer Jerome Shestack, Klavan's court-appointed guardian, sued for "wrongful life," seeking damages equal to the $100,000 per year that Klavan's care costs his estate. He is expected to live about 18 more years as "a prisoner in his own impaired body," according to court records. His lawyers argued that the hospital "violated Klavan's constitutional right to refuse unwanted medical treatment," arguing that medical personnel who give "unwanted resuscitation or maintain unwanted life support in direct violation of the patient's expressed wish should be liable ... for the unwanted prolongation of his or her life." But hospital attorneys Sharon Reiss and Joseph Sprague argued, "Extraordinary measures by hospital personnel to save a dying fellow physician are not. ... extreme or outrageous. The prolongation of an individual's life is not usually deemed an injury meriting damages." U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell agreed, ruling that the 14th Amendment "offers no shield against private conduct." In the absence of state involvement, there can be no federal case, he said. Shestack said the ruling will be appealed (Smith, Philadelphia Daily News, 8/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.