Death laws 'a new area of law'

Monday, February 5, 2018
Chris Woodward (

hospital heart monitor surgeryOne attorney says a federal court's upcoming ruling could impact everyone in the United States.

The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) recently filed a brief at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of a California mother whose toddler was removed from life support without her consent. The child suffered an asthma attack and was later declared brain dead in April 2016. However, PJI says the boy continued to show signs of life and responded to his mother's voice and touch, prompting her to fight the hospital's attempts to disconnect his life support.

Months later, the boy was at a different hospital, where doctors learned the state had issued a death certificate months earlier and sought to terminate his life. A federal court in Sacramento dismissed the case, saying the state cannot be held responsible for its determination-of-death laws, because doctors have "broad and legitimate discretion" to end patients' life support.

Dacus, Brad (PJI)"We … are appealing to the Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals for them to recognize that before an individual has their life taken at the arbitrary discretion of a doctor, that there must be some due process ... granted to the parents or the loved ones in order to make sure that there is not a clear abuse of discretion and to make sure that, in fact, the patient is indeed medically dead," says PJI's president, Brad Dacus. "People need to remember that all federal courts, no matter where they are in this country, must take into consideration decisions of other federal courts -- in this case federal circuits. So it's something that could be impacting the ability for people to make sure that their loved one's life is being respected properly by physicians or hospitals really all across the country."

Dacus adds this is not a fluke case.

"We … have handled three separate cases where we had to intervene to get an emergency injunction from the state supreme court or a temporary restraining order (TRO) from a federal court or superior court in order to keep a person from having their life support taken from them and killed by doctors refusing to listen to outside neurological opinions," he continues. "Make no mistake, this is a new area of law, [because] in the past, parents, families, loved ones haven't had to worry about a doctor zealously pulling the cord on someone who was still mentally alive and had active brain matter."

PJI anticipates oral argument in this case later this year -– likely in summer or fall.

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