A growing number of hospitals nationwide are facing medical malpractice lawsuits brought after doctors attempted to save the lives of individuals who had executed clear “Do Not Resuscitate” forms.
The so-called “wrongful life lawsuits” were once rare, but are now becoming more widely pursued, according to a legal briefing published in the Spring 2017 issue of The Journal of Clinical Ethics. The report was written by Thaddeus Pope, director of the Health Law Institute at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
“Patients in the United States have been subject to an ever-growing ‘avalanche’ of unwanted medical treatment. This is economically, ethically, and legally wrong,” the legal briefing states. “Specifically, courts and agencies have increasingly imposed penalties on healthcare providers who deliberately or negligently disregard advance directives and DNR (do-not-resuscitate) orders.”
In a number of recent wrongful life cases, courts have been more willing to hear the claims and give them credence when healthcare professionals ignore specific instructions not to attempt to save a patient’s life. In a number of claims, these instructions have taken the form of Medical orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (Molst forms).
The lawsuits allege that doctors and medical staff violated patient rights by ignoring the Molst forms and tried to bring a dying patient back to life. This has resulted in prolonged injury and suffering, and in some cases more grievous injuries suffered by the patient.
An article published in the New York Times on April 10 notes that the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled against a hospital immunity claim last July, indicating that the will of the patient overrode the will of the health care provider. In addition, a number of states have fined nursing homes for ignoring DNR orders from residents as well.
Pope said in his briefing that there were a number of reasons for the recent change of heart in courts nationwide.
“First, unwanted medical treatment constitutes waste (and often fraud or abuse) of scarce healthcare resources. Second, it is a serious violation of patients’ autonomy and self-determination,” Pope wrote. “Third, but for a few rare exceptions, administering unwanted medical treatment contravenes settled legal rules and principles.”