Court Denies Family Claim For Unwanted Medical Treatment

OCTOBER 21, 1996 VOLUME 4, NUMBER 16

When Edward H. Winter was hospitalized with heart problems in 1988, he told his doctor he did not want to be resuscitated if he suffered cardiac arrest. Mr. Winter had watched his wife slowly deteriorate and die from a heart condition a few years before, and he was adamant that he did not want to suffer the same fate.

Mr. Winter’s doctor agreed with his wishes, and took care to note on the hospital chart that no extraordinary life-saving procedures should be administered to Mr. Winter. Then his treatment at Franciscan Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, continued.

Shortly after his admission, Mr. Winter’s heart slipped into a potentially fatal arrhythmia. A nurse revived him with a defibrillator, and his heart rate was stabilized. Two days later, Mr. Winter suffered a stroke. His right side paralyzed and requiring total care, Mr. Winter lived for two more years.

Mr. Winter’s daughters sued the hospital for the $100,000 his two months of hospitalization after the stroke had cost. The trial court agreed, and awarded the family damages for the aftermath of the unwanted treatment. Franciscan Hospital appealed.

Ohio’s Supreme Court reversed the judgment, and ordered that the family should receive no damages. Although the court agreed that resuscitating Mr. Winter had been in violation of his wishes, they ruled that “there are some mistakes that people make in this life that affect the lives of others for which there simply should be no monetary compensation.”

The Ohio court decision was not unanimous. Three of the seven justices disagreed. Still, the result was described by the daughters’ attorney as showing that “the right to refuse treatment is a joke.”

What steps might Mr. Winter have taken to ensure that his wishes were honored? Apparently, he had discussed the matter with his physician, but that was not enough. Hospital staff should have been brought into the discussion as well. Perhaps the physician on call needed to be specifically advised.

Would the same result occur in Arizona? Very likely, unless Mr. Winter was adamant, his family was involved and the medical staff had been given clear and unequivocal instructions.

New ALTCS Eligibility Numbers Released

The Health Care Financing Administration has released new Medicaid long-term care (ALTCS) income eligibility figures for 1997. After January 1, applicants will be permitted to have income of up to $1,452 per month before becoming ineligible for long-term care. Last year’s eligibility number had been $1,410.

The new figures mean that a married couple can have up to $2,904 in monthly income and still have either spouse qualify for ALTCS eligibility. Of course, if the institutionalized spouse’s income is less than $1,452, he or she will still qualify regardless of the income of the community spouse.

Several other eligibility numbers will also change effective January 1. Those interested in more detail on ALTCS eligibility, the new figures and the application process (along with Medicare, guardianship and conservatorship and other legal issues) should consider the Arizona Long Term Care seminar presented by HealthEd, LLC.

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