Can a medical director make the decision to stop life support?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 11, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I want to know if a medical director can make the decision to end a person's life without saying anything to the wife when she had all rights to his medical stuff?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

If there was a clear advance directive appointing the wife as agent or that specified specific kinds of care the patient wanted to have administered and those written wished were ignored, then the medical director's actions may technically have overstepped his or her legal bounds.

Even without clear written direction such as an advance directive, however, it is unusual for a medical director to step in and override a spouse's wishes"”particularly if the spouse have been a regular visitor or obviously active in the patient's life. At the very least, a spouse is entitled to an explanation of the pros and cons of particular types of end of life care.

If the husband has died, there is obviously nothing that can change that course. But it sounds as if the wife is grappling with too many unanswered questions and possibly anger and suspicion to be able to carry on peaceably.

If the medical director has not been forthright about the decisions around this medical care, contact the facility's ombudsman, patient representative, or ethics committee"”possibly all three if all three exist"”to help get a more thorough explanation.