By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. a Freehold Township, Monmouth County, New Jersey Elder Law and Healthcare Directive Attorney
This recent case raises issues concerning the legal obligations imposed on health care providers when a patient’s health care directive conflicts with the healthcare providers’ professional opinion(s) that the requested care is medically ineffective and may cause harm.
Here are the facts, Elizabeth Alexander, a 70 year old woman suffering from end stage terminal pancreatic cancer, died four days after she was transferred from a skilled nursing facility to a hospital. Elizabeth had an advance health care directive stating she wanted all measures taken to prolong her life. Defendants declined to provide Elizabeth with certain advanced life support measures on the basis that such measures would have been ineffective and cause her to suffer further harm.
After Elizabeth’s death, her estate (Estate) and children, sued the hospital and numerous medical professionals, alleging Elizabeth died after defendants failed to provide the life-sustaining treatment and comfort care requested in her advance health care directive. The trial court resolved plaintiff’s claims in favor of the defendant either by sustaining demurrers or granting summary judgment. For reasons we shall explain, we affirm except for an award of expert fees to one physician defendant against the children. We also deny the plaintiff’s request for judicial notice.
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