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  • In an unusual case, a judge has refused to grant summary judgment in favor of a medical center based on “wrongful prolongation of life”.
Thursday, 19 October 2017 00:00

In an unusual case, a judge has refused to grant summary judgment in favor of a medical center based on “wrongful prolongation of life”.

Written by Jonathan Druckman

It appears that courts are becoming more receptive to tort lawsuits when hospitals and medical professionals administer life support against patient wishes.

Technology has left no industry untouched. Its effects on the healthcare space have had profound impacts on the lives of millions of Americans. However, it is clear that healthcare technology has become a double-edged sword that has brought along unanticipated consequences. Ethical problems now face hospital and medical centers. Should they keep a patient alive just because they have technological capabilities to do so? Many people have objections to highly invasive procedures that keep people on life-support when they remain in a vegetative state.

Judge Dumont, a Morris County Superior Court Judge, refused to grant a motion for summary judgment in favor of defendants in a case that involved the wrongful prolongation of life. Most Tort law in NJ and in other states has focused on wrongful death claims, which are on the opposite side of this issue. Morristown Medical Center, a doctor, and numerous nurses were named as key defendants for their responsibilities in prolonging the life of a patient named Suzanna Stica. The lawsuit was filed by the executor to Stica’s estate, because Ms. Stica passed away.

Ms. Stica had signed a medical directive, which gave instructions to be followed for her medical care. It provided that she did not wish to be resuscitated nor intubated. She was admitted to the Morristown Medical Center back in November of 2011 after she complained of breathing problems. Despite having received the signed medical directive, the defendants resuscitated Ms. Stica after she went into cardiac arrest. She was able to live for another six months before finally expiring. During that final half year of her life, Ms. Stica allegedly suffered excruciating pain and suffering.

Her final six months of life were filled with bladder problems, confinement to a wheelchair, bouts of depression, bouts of dementia, trouble breathing, and trouble speaking. The defendants claimed that they were immunized under the NJ Advance Directive for Health Care Act. The judge interpreted that act to provide immunity when the patient’s wishes were carried out. This would mean that if the defendants here did not provide resuscitation care in accordance with Ms. Stica’s wishes, then they would be protected from liability from her estate.

Judge Dumont states that the evidence indicated that the patient’s wishes were simply ignored in this instance. Here, the patient underwent medical treatment she did not want and lived an additional six months while suffering from unwanted pain. Judge Dumont cited the case of Berman v. Allan, in which the doctrine of wrongful birth was recognized. This case further solidifies the idea that individuals have a fundamental right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. “Ms. Stica had a well-established right to reject lifesaving treatment,” Dumont said.

The court here was faced with addressing the complex ethical issues that were presented in this case. Do you think that Judge Dumont got it right here? Let us know in the comments section below!

The area of tort law is constantly evolving with new case law that is created. It is important that you select an attorney who keeps up to date with the latest law to ensure that your rights are fully protected. At Druckman & Hernandez, our attorneys have decades of experience in handling personal injury, workers' compensation, and other tort lawsuits. We also keep up to date on changes in the relevant case law. Our office number is 908-353-5850. Call 7 days a week to speak directly with an attorney.

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