In a case of first impression, a New Jersey judge has ruled that the family of a woman allegedly resuscitated against her wishes may sue the hospital and its staff for wrongful prolongation of life.
Morris County Superior Court Judge W. Hunt Dumont declined to grant summary judgment in favor of the key defendants, Morristown Medical Center, Dr. Andrew Youseff and several nurses for their role in prolonging the life of a patient named Suzanna Stica.
“Defendants violated Ms. Stica’s rights when they resuscitated her against the clear directives,” Dumont said in a statement of reasons dated Sept. 15 and recently obtained by the Law Journal.
The lawsuit was filed by the executor to Stica’s estate, Suzanne Koerner.
Stica was admitted to Morristown Medical Center on Nov. 29, 2011, after complaining of breathing problems. She already had signed “do not resuscitate” and “do not intubate” orders ahead of her admission, according to the documents.
Despite those orders, the defendants resuscitated her after she went into cardiac arrest. She lived another six months before she finally died, according to Dumont’s ruling. During that time, she experienced pain and suffering, the ruling said.
Stica was intubated, had difficulty breathing, was confined to a wheelchair, had bladder and bowel problems, suffered from depression and dementia, and had trouble speaking, among other problems, the ruling said.
Dumont rejected arguments made by the defendants that they were immunized under the New Jersey Advance Directive for Health Care Act. Dumont said the act guarantees the right of a patient to make decisions regarding his or her health care, and provides immunity when the patient’s wishes are carried out.
Here, Dumont said, Stica’s wishes were “simply ignored” by the hospital and its staff.
“Ms. Stica lived an additional six months in a diminished condition that included unwanted pain and suffering,” Dumont said. The defendants “violated Ms. Stica’s fundamental right to refuse unwanted medical treatment.”
Dumont said his ruling was a logical extension of the state Supreme Court’s 1979 ruling in Berman v. Allan, which recognizes the doctrine of wrongful birth.
New Jersey, he said, has taken a leadership role in recognizing a patient’s rights regarding his or her treatment options.
“Ms. Stica had a well-established right to reject lifesaving treatment,” Dumont said.
The estate’s attorney, Timothy Barnes, welcomed the ruling.
“We applaud Judge Dumont’s ruling as a clear extension of Berman,” said Barnes, of Porzio Bromberg & Newman in Morristown. “The defendants clearly violated Ms. Stica’s right not to be resuscitated.”
The defendants’ attorney, Peter Marra of Schenck, Price, Smith & King in Florham Park, was away from his office and could not be reached for comment.
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