Can a caregiver be held liable for a patient's death if they refuses medical care?

1 answer | Last updated: Jun 20, 2009
A fellow caregiver asked...

I am paid to live with my fiance's grandmother ("Granny") who has dementia. She still believes she is capable of taking care of herself and resents my presence in what used to be her home. She refuses to follow doctors orders or any of my suggestions regarding her health care, won't take her medication as prescribed and refuses to wear her oxygen most of the time. She is deteriorating mentally and physically. Her daughter, who manages her money and her medical care, seems unconcerned, as her only goal is to keep her out of a nursing home and allow her to die however she wants. I disagree, as I feel Granny is incapable of making that decision due to her dementia. If she does pass away due to her medical and oxygen refusal, as her caretaker, could I be held liable?

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.

As you know best, you’re pinned in a tough spot—living with a person who doesn’t seem to want you there, watching her deteriorate—and presumably, trying not to antagonize your future relatives.

It is highly unlikely that you would be held criminally responsible if granny should die due to a failure to take oxygen or medication. And this is particularly true because the people most likely to bring such an unlikely lawsuit—her children—seem well aware of the situation.

However, it does sound as if you and granny need some assistance. It is often a great help to call in another person, someone totally unrelated who has the imprimatur of medical or governmental authority, to oversee specific tasks such as doling out medications or giving shots. A surprising number of even the most stubborn patients turn into putty in their hands. Most locales provide help with this-through visiting nurses or social workers. Contact your local Area on Aging for some confidential advice about what is available in your area.