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Wrongful life: Can medical providers be sued for failing to honor advance directives?

Most people know that medical providers can be sued for harm caused by mistakes, as well as for injuries caused by abuse or neglect.

But what about injuries caused by a refusal to honor an advance directive calling for a patient to be allowed to die, rather than being kept alive through ventilators or other extraordinary interventions?

In this post, we will use a Q & A format to address this important question.

Are there really cases where medical providers are being sued for using aggressive interventions that went against patients' advance medical directives?

Yes. In several cases around the country, families whose loved ones were left in terrible condition after directives against aggressive treatments were disregarded are suing for damages.

A recent New York Times article highlighted some of the cases.

Can you give an example of these cases?

In a case in Maryland, an 83-year-old woman suffered a bad stroke that led to two weeks of hospitalization. She had an advance directive against aggressive life-sustaining interventions and also had named her husband as her proxy for health care decisions if she was unable to make them.

Her husband and four children agreed, after an excruciating family meeting, that if the woman's heart or lungs failed, she should be allowed to die. The husband executed a form on Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) to that effect.

Despite the family's clear intent, hospital staff ignored the MOLST directive. They revived the woman with epinephrine injections and electric shocks, breaking her ribs and damaging her lungs. The intervention left her in much worse shape than before, unable to care for herself.

Does Ohio have the MOLST form and what is it supposed to do?

Yes, Ohio has Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. This form is supposed to be a medical order that becomes part of a patient's file. The intent is to implement the advance directive that many people include as part of their estate plan.

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