Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Exercising the Right to Die

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Exercising the Right to Die

Article excerpt

This past autumn, the highest courts in New York and California decided two closely watched cases concerning how patients exercise the right to refuse life-prolonging technologies. In New York, the Court of Appeals affirmed an intermediate appellate court ruling that the Elbaum family must pay more than $100,000 to Grace Plaza nursing home for treatments it provided to maintain Jean Elbaum in a persistent vegetative state, even though, while competent, Ms. Elbaum clearly and consistently expressed her wish to refuse the interventions (Grace Plaza of Great Neck v. Elbaum, 14 October 1993). In California, the Supreme Court reversed an intermediate appellate court to hold that principles of informed consent do not require doctors to disclose life-expectancy projections to a patient suffering from a particularly virulent form of cancer (Arato v. Avedon, 30 September 1993; see Alex Capron, "Duty, Truth, and Whole Human Beings," HCR July-August 1993, discussing the intermediate appellate court decision).

The Elbaum decision comes some five years after Grace Plaza and jean Elbaum's husband, Murray Elbaum, sued one another in connection with her care. Murray Elbaum believed that his wife had not wished to be kept alive in a permanent vegetative state. He sued to force Grace Plaza to honor her wishes, and also refused to pay the home for treatments provided in violation of her wishes. Grace Plaza responded that New York law required Jean Elbaum's tube feedings to continue because Murray Elbaum had failed to provide clear and convincing evidence of her purported wish to decline the intervention. Grace Plaza sued for payment. In 1989, Murray Elbaum proved in court that Jean Elbaum had left the necessary clear evidence, and her feeding tube was removed. …

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