Many hospitals and doctors rightly have campaigned to get more patients to provide information in advance about their end-of-life care choices, but doesn’t that mean that the choices when made should be respected? And if they’re not, what role do the courts have?
Paula Span, a New York Times columnist who writes on aging issues, reports that a growing number of patients and families have sued hospitals, doctors, and nurses for disregarding or overriding advance directives. There are various kinds of these legal documents. But they often become part of patients’ medical records, directing caregivers, for example, that an individual does not want extreme measures taken to resuscitate them or to sustain their lives.
This can go against deep traditions in medicine, especially for caregivers accustomed to crisis responses in difficult, exigent circumstances. They think of themselves as life changers and life savers. At the same time, patients have insisted that their rights and choices demand respect. Many physicians and hospitals have recognized and encouraged this, as has the U.S. health care system more generally, for example, via Medicare.