We are asked to decide whether the substituted judgment of a person in a persistent vegetative state that the artificial maintenance of his nutrition and hydration be discontinued shall be honored. The effectuation of the ward's wishes is supported by his wife-guardian and his family, but is opposed by his attending physicians and the defendant hospital. We are faced again with a case where "[a]dvances in medical science have given doctors greater control over the time and nature of death" and where physicians have developed a "range of options ... to postpone death irrespective of the effect on the patient." Superintendent of Belchertown State School v. Saikewicz, 373 Mass. 728, 737 (1977). We recognize that "[t]he case ... raises moral, social, technological, philosophical, and legal questions involving the interplay of many disciplines. No one person or profession has all the answers." Matter of Conroy, 98 N.J. 321, 344 (1985).
Sensitive to the significance and complexity of our decision, we do not shirk our responsibility, for we are aware that the advances of medical science and technology are "compelling the public, through the courts, if not the legislatures, to formulate new standards and procedures for measuring the conduct of persons involved in the health care of persons with irreversible brain damage." Severns v. Wilmington Medical Center, Inc., 421 A.2d 1334, 1344 (Del. 1980).
In Saikewicz, supra, and cases following it, we have been confronted with some of the legal implications of these new medical advances, as had been the Supreme Court of New Jersey earlier in Matter of Quinlan, 70 N.J. 10, cert. denied sub nom. Garger v. New Jersey, 429 U.S. 922 (1976). We have determined that, in certain circumstances, further medical treatment may be discontinued. The Supreme Court of New Jersey has recently restated the dilemma: "As scientific advances make it possible for us to live longer than ever before, even when most of our physical and mental capacities have been irrevocably lost, patients and their families are increasingly asserting a right to die a natural death without undue dependence on medical technology or unnecessarily protracted agony — in short, a right to `die with dignity.'" Matter of Conroy, supra at 343.
a. The medical incident and initial proceedings. Paul E. Brophy, Sr. (Brophy), was afflicted on March 22, 1983, by the rupture of an aneurysm located at the apex of the basilar artery. Prior to that time, Brophy had been a healthy, robust man, who had been employed by the town of Easton as a fireman and emergency medical technician. He enjoyed deer hunting, fishing, gardening, and performing household chores. About midnight on March 22, 1983, he complained to his wife, Patricia, of a severe, "splitting" headache. He became unconscious. His wife called the Easton fire department, and Brophy was transported to Goddard Hospital. An angiogram at Goddard Hospital revealed the aneurysm. Surgery ensued on April 6, 1983, but was not successful. He has never regained consciousness. Brophy is now in a condition described as a "persistent vegetative state."
b. The medical facts. Diagnostic techniques utilized to determine the nature of Brophy's illness revealed subarachnoid bleeding in the posterior fossa surrounding the upper brain stem. Later, an angiogram revealed an aneurysm located at the apex of the basilar artery. On April 6, 1983, Brophy underwent a right frontotemporal craniotomy. Shortly after surgery, he received several CT scans which showed extensive damage, namely, complete infarction of his left posterior cerebral artery and infarction of the right temporal lobe of the brain. After surgery, he initially received nutrition by means of a nasogastric tube.
On June 28, 1983, Brophy was transferred to the New England Sinai Hospital. He received intensive physical and speech therapy for about three to four weeks. After he showed no response to that therapy, it was permanently discontinued. On July 7, 1983, Doctor Ferey Shahrokhi diagnosed Brophy as being in a "semi-vegetative or vegetative state."
On December 21, 1983, Brophy was transferred to the Cardinal Cushing General Hospital, with the consent of his wife, and on December 22, 1983, he underwent a surgical procedure in which a G-tube was inserted through a stoma in the abdominal wall into the stomach to provide him with nutrition and hydration. On December 29, 1983, he was discharged from the Cardinal Cushing General Hospital and was readmitted into the New England Sinai Hospital.
According to the testimony of Dr. Ronald Cranford, who has made extensive studies regarding the condition of persistent vegetative state,
Apart from the extreme injury to his brain, Brophy's other organs are functioning relatively well. The judge found that he is not terminally ill, nor is he in danger of imminent death from any other medical cause.
Brophy is dependent on the G-tube for life sustaining nutrition and hydration. The G-tube is a pliable silicone tube, about one and one-half feet in length with two openings at the top.
While the use of a G-tube can have certain adverse side effects, the judge found that Brophy had experienced none of the adverse side effects during a period of approximately eighteen months. The judge found that it is not likely that he will experience complications in the future. The judge concluded that now that the G-tube is in place, it is the least intrusive, least invasive, and most problem-free way of providing nutrition and hydration to him.
Removal of the G-tube likely would create various effects resulting from the lack of hydration and nutrition, leading ultimately to death. The judge found that death by dehydration is extremely painful and uncomfortable for a human being.
c. The finding as to substituted judgment. The judge found on the basis of ample evidence which no one disputes, that Brophy's judgment would be to decline the provision of food and water and to terminate his life. In reaching that conclusion, the judge considered various factors including the following: (1) Brophy's expressed preferences; (2) his religious convictions and their relation to refusal of treatment; (3) the impact on his family; (4) the probability of adverse side effects; and (5) the prognosis, both with and without treatment. The judge also considered present and future incompetency as an element which Brophy would consider in his decision-making process.
Brophy's wife and guardian, Patricia, in reaching her decision that her husband's "life is over" went through long and agonizing research, reflection, and prayer. She discussed her decision with family and clergy.
The matter was also thoroughly investigated by the guardian ad litem, who made three reports. He recommended to the court that the G-tube not be removed, that a DNR order be entered on Brophy's chart, and that a nonaggressive treatment plan be implemented in the event of a life-threatening infection.
2. The law.
a. The right to refuse treatment. We begin with the recognition that we are involved in a difficult and demanding area of the law in which each case presents issues of fundamental importance that require more than the mere "mechanical reliance on legal doctrine." Superintendent of Belchertown State School v. Saikewicz, 373 Mass. 728, 736 (1977). We encourage and seek insights and "the collective guidance of those in health care, moral ethics, philosophy, and other disciplines." Id.
"The law protects [a person's] right to make [his] own decision to accept or reject treatment, whether that decision is wise or unwise." Lane v. Candura, 6 Mass.App.Ct. 377, 383 (1978). Cf. Commissioner of Correction v. Myers, supra at 261, 263-264. This right has come to be widely recognized and respected by the courts of this nation. See, e.g., Rasmussen v. Fleming, 154 Ariz. 200, (1986) (741 P.2d 667, 670-671 [Ariz. App. 1986]), and cases cited;
The right of self-determination and individual autonomy has its roots deep in our history. John Stuart Mill stated the concept succinctly: "[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right." Mill, On Liberty, in 43 Great Books of the Western World 271 (R. Hutchins ed. 1952), quoted in In re Caulk, 125 N.H. 226, 236 (1984) (Douglas, J., dissenting).
It is in recognition of these fundamental principles of individual autonomy that we sought, in Saikewicz, to shift the
The right to refuse medical treatment in life threatening situations is not absolute. Commissioner of Correction v. Myers, 379 Mass. 255, 261-262 (1979). Superintendent of Belchertown State School v. Saikewicz, 373 Mass. 728, 740-741 (1977). Matter of Conroy, supra at 348. We have noted, however, that "the State's interest in the preservation of life does not invariably control the right to refuse treatment in cases of positive prognosis." Commissioner of Correction v. Myers, supra at 263. See Lane v. Candura, supra (recognizing a competent person's right to refuse amputation of a gangrenous leg). We have recognized at least four countervailing State interests: (1) the preservation of life; (2) the protection of interests of innocent third parties; (3) the prevention of suicide; and (4) the maintenance of the ethical integrity of the medical profession. Saikewicz, supra at 741. See Matter of Spring, supra at 641; Matter of Hier, supra at 210. Other State courts have identified and applied similar State interests. See Bouvia v. Superior Court, 179 Cal.App.3d 1127, 1142 (1986); Foody v. Manchester Memorial Hosp., 40 Conn.Sup. 127, 133 (Super. Ct. 1984); John F. Kennedy Memorial Hosp., Inc. v. Bludworth, 452 So.2d 921, 924 (Fla. 1984). Matter of Conroy, supra at 348-349, and cases cited. Cf. In re L.H.R., 253 Ga. 439, 446 (1984); Leach v. Shapiro, 13 Ohio App.3d 393, 395 (Ct. App. 1984). Where appropriate, we have been willing to consider other State interests as well, particularly when they are specifically related to the right to privacy. See Commissioner
We have contended that the primary goal of the substituted judgment standard is "to determine with as much accuracy as possible the wants and needs of the individual involved." Saikewicz, supra at 750. The parties do not contest that the evidence was sufficient to support the judge's findings concerning Brophy's subjective viewpoint. We agree.
Accepting that Brophy's substituted judgment would be to discontinue providing nutrients through the G-tube, we are left only with the question whether the Commonwealth's interests require that his judgment be overridden. It is natural to begin with the most significant interest in this case, the interest in the preservation of life. See Saikewicz, supra at 741; Commissioner of Correction v. Myers, supra at 262; Matter of Conroy, 98 N.J. 321, 349 (1985).
The concern for the preservation of the life of the patient normally involves an interest in the prolongation of life. Thus, the State's interest in preserving life is very high when "human life [can] be saved where the affliction is curable." Saikewicz, supra at 742. That interest wanes when the underlying affliction is incurable and would "soon cause death regardless of any medical treatment." Commissioner of Correction v. Myers, supra at 262. Saikewicz, supra. The calculus shifts when the issue is not "whether, but when, for how long, and at what cost to the individual that life may be briefly extended." Id. Commissioner of Correction v. Myers, supra.
When we balance the State's interest in prolonging a patient's life against the rights of the patient to reject such prolongation,
The duty of the State to preserve life must encompass a recognition of an individual's right to avoid circumstances in which the individual himself would feel that efforts to sustain life demean or degrade his humanity. See Matter of Dinnerstein, 6 Mass.App.Ct. 466, 473 (1978). It is antithetical to our scheme of ordered liberty and to our respect for the autonomy of the individual for the State to make decisions regarding the individual's quality of life. It is for the patient to decide such issues. Our role is limited to ensuring that a refusal of treatment does not violate legal norms. Erickson v. Dilgard, 44 Misc.2d 27, 28 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1962).
In this case, the State's concern for the preservation of the life of the patient is implicated. Here, Brophy is not terminally ill nor in danger of imminent death from any underlying physical illness. It is true, however, that his life expectancy has been shortened by his physical affliction. While the judge found that continued use of the G-tube is not a highly invasive or intrusive procedure and may not subject him to pain or suffering, he is left helpless and in a condition which Brophy has indicated he would consider to be degrading and without human dignity. In making this finding, it is clear that the judge
No case in this Commonwealth has presented such a situation. For example, in Saikewicz, supra, we declined to force the use of highly invasive treatment or extraordinary measures in the case of a terminally ill patient. In Matter of Dinnerstein, supra, the Appeals Court allowed the entry of a no-code order in the case of a terminally ill patient suffering from Alzheimer's disease, who was being fed by use of a nasogastric tube. We approved of the decision in Lane v. Candura, 6 Mass.App.Ct. 377 (1978), where the Appeals Court refused to order a competent individual to have her gangrenous leg amputated — even though it would have saved her life. Commissioner of Correction v. Myers, supra at 263. In Matter of Hier, 18 Mass.App.Ct. 200 (1984), the Appeals Court refused to order surgery to reimplant a G-tube, an invasive procedure. Cf. Matter of Spring, supra at 640 (discontinuance of hemodialysis authorized).
A few States have decided cases with fact patterns similar to the one at hand. The leading case is the New Jersey Supreme Court decision in Matter of Conroy, supra. In that case the court would have refused to force a patient who had less than a year to live to endure the pain of a nasogastric tube used to supply nutrition and hydration, id. at 339, 365 (patient died while appeal pending in appellate division), id. at 341, rejected the distinction between active or passive treatment and stated that "the primary focus should be the patient's desires and experience of pain and enjoyment — not the type of treatment involved." Id. at 369. In rejecting this distinction, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the appellate division, which had held that, because provision of nutrition and hydration through a nasogastric tube was "ordinary" care, the patient must be maintained by the nasogastric tube. Id. at 372. The recent California case of Bouvia v. Superior Court, 179 Cal.App.3d 1127 (1986), reaffirmed the logic of Barber v.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey has stated that the State's interest in preserving life "generally gives way to the patient's much stronger personal interest in directing the course of his own life." Matter of Conroy, supra at 350.
While we believe that the distinction between extraordinary and ordinary care is a factor to be considered, the use of such a distinction as the sole, or major, factor of decision tends, in a case such as this, to create a distinction without meaning. Additionally, to state that the maintenance of nutrition and hydration by the use of the existing G-tube is only ordinary is to ignore the total circumstances of Brophy's situation. He cannot swallow. The judge found that Brophy may be maintained by the use of the G-tube for "several years," the longest recorded survival by such means extending for thirty-seven years. Clearly, to be maintained by such artificial means over an extended period is not only intrusive but extraordinary.
A G-tube was inserted as a means of providing time for fuller determination of his prognosis. Insertion of the G-tube might be considered extraordinary care, while its maintenance
Thus, we conclude that the State's interest in the preservation of life does not overcome Brophy's right to discontinue treatment.
Last, we conclude also that, so long as we decline to force the hospital to participate in removing or clamping Brophy's G-tube, there is no violation of the integrity of the medical profession. The position we take in a case such as this is consistent with the view of sound medical practice taken by the representative bodies of the American Medical Association, the Massachusetts Medical Society,
b. The rights and duties of the hospital. The hospital argues that it has no constitutional, statutory, or common law right to deny nutrition and hydration to Brophy so as to bring about his death.
Conclusion. Accordingly, we uphold that portion of the judgment which pertains to the hospital, but set aside that portion of the judgment which enjoins the guardian from authorizing a facility to remove or clamp Brophy's G-tube. A new judgment is to be entered ordering the hospital to assist the guardian in transferring the ward to a suitable facility, or to his home, where his wishes may be effectuated, and authorizing the
NOLAN, J. (dissenting).
The court today has rendered an opinion which affronts logic, ethics, and the dignity of the human person.
As to logic, the court has built its entire case on an outrageously erroneous premise, i.e., food and liquids are medical treatment. The issue is not whether the tube should be inserted but whether food should be given through the tube. The process of feeding is simply not medical treatment and is not invasive, as that word is used in this context. Food and water are basic human needs. They are not medicines and feeding them to a patient is just not medical treatment. Because of this faulty premise, the court's conclusions must inevitably fall under the weight of logic.
In the forum of ethics, despite the opinion's high-blown language to the contrary, the court today has indorsed euthanasia and suicide. Suicide is direct self-destruction and is intrinsically evil. No set of circumstances can make it moral. Paul Brophy will die as a direct result of the cessation of feeding. The ethical principle of double effect is totally inapplicable here. This death by dehydration and starvation has been approved by the court. He will not die from the aneurysm which precipitated loss of consciousness, the surgery which was performed, the brain damage that followed or the insertion of the G-tube. He will die as a direct result of the refusal to feed him. He will starve to death, and the court approves this death. See Bannon, Rx: Death by Dehydration, 12 Human Life Rev., 70 (No. 3, 1986).
Finally, I can think of nothing more degrading to the human person than the balance which the court struck today in favor of death and against life. It is but another triumph for the forces of secular humanism (modern paganism) which have now succeeded in imposing their anti-life principles at both ends of life's spectrum. Pro dolor.
LYNCH, J. (dissenting in part).
This case turns on a fine balancing of competing interests. I disagree with the majority and believe that that balance tips in favor of continuing to provide nutrition and hydration to Paul Brophy.
Although I indorse the reasoning and careful scholarship of much of the majority opinion, and would reaffirm Superintendent of Belchertown State School v. Saikewicz, 373 Mass. 728 (1977), today's decision goes beyond that pronouncement. My principal objection is that the State's interest in the preservation of life has not been given appropriate weight. In addition, unlike Saikewicz, the majority nullify, if only in part, the law against suicide.
The interest in the preservation of life consists of at least two related concerns. First, the State has an interest in preserving the life of the particular patient. Second, the State has a closely related interest in preserving the sanctity of all human life.
The majority recognize that the first concern is implicated in this case but fail to acknowledge significant concern for preserving the sanctity of all human life. The withdrawal of the provision of food and water results in particularly difficult, painful and gruesome death;
In upholding a substituted judgment decision to refuse nutrition and hydration, this court and the California and New Jersey courts have not been willing to take the final step and rule directly that the right to privacy and bodily integrity entails a (limited) right to die. Cf. Bouvia v. Superior Court, supra at 1146-1148 (Compton, J., concurring). Massachusetts law has not heretofore acknowledged a right to die emanating from the right to privacy, but now, in essence, it does. Under Saikewicz and its progeny, the invasiveness of the procedure sought to be terminated was an important factor to be considered in assessing the strength of the State's interest in preserving life against the individual's rights. For all intents and purposes, this element has been eliminated and the Saikewicz "balancing test" is all but chimerical once it has been discerned what the individual's choice would be. It is not enough to retreat behind the argument that discerning degrees of invasiveness would be difficult.
Second, it appears that the majority have refused to overrule Saikewicz directly and to rule in favor of a constitutional right to die, so as to avoid the obvious conflict with the law against suicide. The State has an interest in the prevention of suicide. The underlying State interest in this area is the prevention of irrational self-destruction. Saikewicz, supra at 743 n. 11. We have stated that an adult's refusing medical treatment is not necessarily suicide because "(1) in refusing treatment the patient may not have the specific intent to die, and (2) even if he did, to the extent that the cause of death was from natural causes the patient did not set the death producing agent in motion with the intent of causing his own death." Id. Here, Brophy is not terminally ill, and death is not imminent, and the judge specifically found that Paul Brophy's decision would be to terminate his life by declining food and water. The judge also found that "Brophy's decision, if he were competent to make it, would be primarily based upon the present quality of life possible for him, and would not be based upon the burdens imposed upon him by receiving food and water through a G-tube, which burdens are relatively minimal...." Where treatment is burdensome and invasive, no such specific intent is normally at issue because, whether or not the patient seeks to die, the patient primarily seeks to end invasive or burdensome
Suicide is primarily a crime of commission, but can, and indeed must, also be conceived as an act of omission at times. See In re Caulk, 125 N.H. 226, 228, 231-232 (1984) (suicide can be committed by starvation [or dehydration]). If nutrition and hydration are terminated, it is not the illness which causes the death but the decision (and act in accordance therewith) that the illness makes life not worth living. There is no rational distinction between suicide by deprivation of hydration or nutrition in or out of a medical setting
The State therefore has an interest in preventing suicide in this case that is greater than that in any previous case which has been before this court. The majority are apparently willing to recognize a limited right to commit suicide when an individual chooses to forgo life sustaining nutrition and hydration in a medical setting. The law against suicide predates our Constitution, and we should not nullify it without express legislation to this effect. Commonwealth v. Mink, 123 Mass. 422, 425-429 (1877).
A delicate case such as this calls for doctrinal exaction and for judicial restraint and caution. In an admirable effort to affirm individual autonomy and to authorize individuals to
O'CONNOR, J. (concurring in part and dissenting in part).
I agree that the law of the Commonwealth does not require hospitals or medical professionals to take measures contrary to their ethical views concerning their duty to their patients. Therefore, I join the court in affirming that part of the judgment that pertains to the hospital. I sharply disagree, however, that the court should honor the choice, attributed to Brophy by a process of substituted judgment, that his G-tube be removed or clamped. Therefore, I do not join the court in so far as the court sets aside the injunction prohibiting the guardian from authorizing a facility to remove or clamp the tube. Furthermore, I do not join the court in ordering a new judgment designed to effectuate Brophy's supposed wishes. I would affirm the judgment below in its entirety.
The court's statement of the trial judge's findings concerning the choice Brophy would have made, were he competent, "to decline the provision of food and water and to terminate his life," ante at 427, is critically incomplete. The judge found (findings nos. 97 and 113) that Brophy's choice "would be to decline the provision of food and water, and thereby terminate
Unlike other cases, typified by Superintendent of Belchertown State School v. Saikewicz, 373 Mass. 728 (1977), and Matter of Conroy, 98 N.J. 321 (1985), this case does not involve an individual's substituted choice to live for as long as possible without seriously burdensome treatment rather than to undergo such treatment in order to prolong life for a brief and uncertain time. Instead, this case raises for the first time in this Commonwealth the question whether an individual has a legal right to choose to die, and to enlist the assistance of others to effectuate that choice on the ground that, irrespective of the nature of available life prolonging treatment, life in any event is not worth living and its continuation is intolerable.
The court frames the issue as "whether the substituted judgment of a person in a persistent vegetative state that the artificial maintenance of his nutrition and hydration be discontinued shall be honored." Ante at 419. The court's statement of the issue, like its statement of the facts, fails to reflect the judge's finding, binding on this court, that Brophy's choice would not
Surely, if one has a right to commit suicide, others have a right to assist him in doing so. The fundamental question, then, is whether the court should recognize a right to commit suicide. This court's explicit recognition of an individual's right to be free of nonconsensual invasion of his bodily integrity in Harnish v. Children's Hosp. Medical Center, 387 Mass. 152 (1982), in no sense implied recognition of a right to commit suicide. Nor was such a right recognized by this court in Saikewicz or by the Supreme Court of New Jersey in Matter of Conroy. In Saikewicz, supra at 753-755, this court held that Saikewicz's right of self-determination was superior to the State's interest in the preservation of human life, but in that case there was no suggestion that, were he competent, Saikewicz would have refused treatment specifically for the purpose of ending his life. In light of the facts of that case, this court noted that "[t]he interest in protecting against suicide seems to require little if any discussion." Id. at 743 n. 11. The court's decision was not a recognition of a right to die, but rather was a recognition of Saikewicz's right to choose not to undergo treatment that, due to his own special characteristics and the nature of the treatment, would impose "heavy physical and emotional burdens ... to effect a brief and uncertain delay in the natural process of death." Id. at 744. This court rested its
The facts in Matter of Conroy, supra, parallel the facts in this case, with one major distinction. In Matter of Conroy, there was no finding, as there is here, that the ward's choice would be based primarily on the quality of life possible for the ward. As this court observes, ante at 435, "[i]n that case the court would have refused to force a patient who had less than a year to live to endure the pain of a nasogastric tube used to supply nutrition and hydration." Most important are the court's observations in Conroy, at 351, that "people who refuse life-sustaining medical treatment may not harbor a specific intent to die, Saikewicz ... at 743 n. 11 ...; rather, they may fervently wish to live, but to do so free of unwanted medical technology, surgery, or drugs, and without protracted suffering.... Recognizing the right of a terminally ill person to reject medical treatment respects that person's intent, not to die, but to suspend medical intervention at a point consonant with the `individual's view respecting a personally preferred manner of concluding life.' Note, `The Tragic Choice: Termination of Care for Patients in a Permanent Vegetative State,' 51 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 285, 310 (1976). The difference is between self-infliction or self-destruction and self-determination. See Byrn, `Compulsory Lifesaving Treatment for the Competent Adult,' 44 Fordham L. Rev. 1, 16-23 (1975)."
The court states here, ante at 433, that "the State's interest in preserving life is very high when `human life [can] be saved where the affliction is curable.' Saikewicz, supra at 742. That interest wanes when the underlying affliction is incurable and would `soon cause death regardless of any medical treatment.' Commissioner of Correction v. Myers, supra at 262. Saikewicz, supra." It is true, of course, that if the proposed treatment will not be effective to prolong the patient's life, the State's concern for the preservation of life is not advanced by
In the instant case, the court states: "[W]e make no judgment based on our own view of the value of Brophy's life, since we do not approve of an analysis of State interests which focuses on Brophy's quality of life.... It is antithetical to our scheme of ordered liberty and to our respect for the autonomy of the individual for the State to make decisions regarding the individual's quality of life. It is for the patient to decide such issues." Ante at 434. The court's conclusion that Brophy's right to discontinue food and water is superior to the State's interest in preserving human life, ante at 439, appears, then, to be premised on the principle that everyone has an absolute right to commit suicide regardless of any assessment by the court of the quality of the life to be extinguished. If, indeed, that is a correct statement of the court's reasoning, it necessarily follows that the young as well as the old, the healthy as well as the sick, and the firm as well as the infirm, without exception, have the right to commit suicide, and that others have the right to participate in that act. Such a principle surely departs radically from the policy and tradition of this Commonwealth heretofore and should not be acceptable to a civilized society.
The court makes its own assessment of Brophy's condition as "helpless." Ante at 434. It may be, therefore, that the court does not rely exclusively on Brophy's own evaluation of the quality of his life, and that the court's evaluation is indeed a relevant factor. If that is the case, then the rule for the future is that the court will determine on a case by case basis whether the quality of life available to the individual who chooses to die justifies a State interest in protecting that life. Whether the
Even in cases involving severe and enduring illness, disability and "helplessness," society's focus must be on life, not death, with dignity. By its very nature, every human life, without reference to its condition, has a value that no one rightfully can deny or measure. Recognition of that truth is the cornerstone on which American law is built. Society's acceptance of that fundamental principle explains why, from time immemorial, society through law has extended its protection to all, including, especially, its weakest and most vulnerable members. The court's implicit, if not explicit, declaration that not every human life has sufficient value to be worthy of the State's protection denies the dignity of all human life, and undermines the very principle on which American law is constructed. I would affirm the judgment below.
This definition is consistent with the description of a persistent vegetative state in the President's Commission Report, which also states: "Most of what makes someone a distinctive individual is lost when the person is unconscious, especially if he or she will always remain so. Personality, memory, purposive action, social interaction, sentience, thought, and even emotional states are gone. Only vegetative functions and reflexes persist. If food is supplied, the digestive system functions, and uncontrolled evacuation occurs; the kidneys produce urine; the heart, lungs, and blood vessels continue to move air and blood; and nutrients are distributed in the body." (Footnote omitted.) Id. at 174-175.
On February 8, 1985, pursuant to an order of the Probate Court, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint which named the hospital as defendant. On March 4, 1985, the hospital answered the amended complaint. On May 21, 1985, the hospital filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, and a motion to substitute the guardian ad litem as the proper party defendant. The motion to dismiss was docketed but not heard; the motion to substitute was denied. Evidentiary hearings were held on May 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30, and 31, 1985. On July 19, 1985, the plaintiff moved to reopen the evidence. The motion was allowed, and additional testimony was taken on September 4, 1985. On October 21, 1985, the probate judge issued extensive findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment consistent therewith. Originally, the probate judge stated that the motion to dismiss was not formally presented to the court and was, accordingly, not acted upon. On November 29, 1985, in entering judgment with respect to the defendant's motion to amend the procedural background, the judge stated that the motion to dismiss was denied nunc pro tunc. The plaintiff filed a notice of appeal on December 4, 1985, and on December 20, 1985, the defendant appealed from the denial of its motion to dismiss. We transferred the case to this court on our own motion.
Brophy also suffers from a condition known as hydrocephalus — the excessive accumulation of cerebral spinal fluid inside the skull. This condition could be relieved somewhat by surgery, but the probate judge found that the surgical procedure involved would be highly invasive, would produce only minor improvement, and would not, in all probability, restore his cognitive function.
An electroencephalogram (EEG) performed on April 13, 1984, was abnormal, but did indicate controlled electrical activity generated by millions of cortical neurons, which were normal.
Later, in John F. Kennedy Memorial Hosp., Inc. v. Bludworth, 452 So.2d 921, 924 (Fla. 1984), the Florida Supreme Court, having quoted the above passage with approval, stated, as to an incompetent person: "This right of terminally ill patients should not be lost when they suffer irreversible brain damage, become comatose, and are no longer able to personally express their wishes to discontinue the use of extraordinary artificial support systems."
Additionally, the probate judge found: "There are a significant number of physicians and medical ethicists and a significant segment of the hospital community who disagree concerning the issue of whether or not it is morally and ethically appropriate to withhold food and water from a patient in Brophy's condition, who is not terminally ill."