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Do Courts Favor Families in Futility Disputes?

Posted Mar 16 2011 5:53pm
A hospital ethicist sent me this quote by Rebecca Dresser  in a story  on the Joseph Maraachli case.  She asked: Do you know if this statement is based on actual "legal cases"?
Rebecca Dresser, a professor of law and medical ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, said U.S. courts generally side with families in such cases that want to continue treatment for loved ones even in seemingly hopeless medical cases.
This was the heart of my response:  I think that is true in only a very limited sense.  Courts will order TEMPORARY injunctions to continue care until there can be a fuller development of the facts and experts.  Often the patient dies in the meantime, so the TEMPORARY injunction often ends up being dispositive.  But on the merits, courts have not generally sided with families.  Healthcare providers are overwhelmingly successful in these cases.

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