Family Sues Hospital for Violating Do Not Resuscitate Order
All too often, families have to bring lawsuits against hospitals that let their loved ones die through malpractice or neglect.
In Florida, the equation has been turned on its head by a woman suing a hospital and nursing home after medics performed traumatic and invasive lifesaving procedures on her mother in specific violation of a do not resuscitate order.
Alzheimer’s sufferer Marjorie Mangiaruca, 91, was given CPR, subjected to other interventions and put on a ventilator after she had a heart attack in 2011, despite her stated and official desire to die naturally when the time came.
“Decedent suffered an artificially prolonged death which was repugnant to her values and wishes regarding how she wanted to die,” the suit states. “Decedent was forced to endure violent and painful medical interventions, including having her lip busted, having a hole cut in her throat, receiving paralyzing drugs, having tubes inserted into her throat and her stomach, and having air forced into her lungs.”
Mangiaruca’s daughter, Sharon Hallada, had medical power of attorney and signed the do not resuscitate order when her mother was initially admitted to the hospital for an infection. In the event that she stopped breathing or her heart stopped working, the DNR was supposed to prevent doctors from trying to bring her back. Somehow, the order was not transferred to the nursing home that Mangiaruca was sent to, nor did the home inquire about any advanced directives, according to the lawsuit. When her heart attack came, EMTs tried to revive her on the way back to the hospital, where she was put on life support systems.
As a bonus slap in the face, after Hallada had to actively make the choice to end life support and let her unresponsive mother pass away, the hospital stuck her with the bill for the unwanted procedures. With nowhere else to find recourse, she filed a lawsuit against the hospital and nursing home for negligence, emotional distress and other counts. End-of-life rights group Compassion and Choices has also joined the suit.
Estimates put the chances of CPR successfully reviving a very old patient at five to 10 percent or less, with potential for peripheral damage from broken ribs, pneumonia, organ lacerations and more. Patients who do regain consciousness still might not live for long once breathing and feeding tubes are removed after an extended trauma, with potential for brain damage from lack of oxygen to boot.
For many people, the risk is worth it for the chance at a few more months or years of life. However, people who decide in advance that they don’t want to spend their last moments having their chests pounded on and tubes shoved down their throats have a right that their wishes be respected. The right is codified in law in the federal 1990 Patient Self-Determination Act, as well as various state-specific laws.
“I think this is a case that is of public concern,” says Jeffrey S. Badgley, the attorney for the plaintiff in the Mangiaruca suit. “It’s something that we’re all going to have to be dealing with as our parents go in the direction that Sharon’s parents went.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t think health care institutions are where they need to be on this issue,” says Badgley, who is the founder of the Orlando-based Badgley Law Group. “There may be more lawsuits like this one as time goes on.”
Inertia and money, Badgley notes, are among the factors that conspire to prevent people from being granted their end-of-life rights. “For several years now the Florida statutes have made special provisions to put in writing decisions made regarding end of life health care. Unfortunately I think it takes a long time for institutions to respond to these innovations in law and medicine,” he says. “Another factor is the enormous pressure on the health care industry these days to generate a profit. It’s not in their best interest to withhold medical care.”
Doctors may also be reluctant by virtue of their profession to not try every possible intervention in order to preserve a life, even those that come at high cost and buy scant time. “I think it’s very difficult for hospitals and health care facilities to pay attention to this important right,” Badgley says. “Don’t treat me. Don’t perform a procedure on me. Let me die.”