Daughter Agrees With Hospital To Drop Mom's Life Support
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 11, 2005
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS--After years of fighting a Boston hospital over her mother's wishes to stay alive, Carol Carvitt agreed Friday to allow doctors to remove the ventilator that is helping her breathe.
Carvitt's 79-year-old mother, Barbara Howe, was diagnosed in 1991 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is more commonly known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease". Several years ago, she appointed Carvitt her health care proxy, to make all medical decisions for her. Howe also told her daughter that she wanted to be kept alive for as long as she could enjoy her family.
Hospital personnel note that Howe's family members have visited her every night from 7 to 11 ever since she was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital in 1999. Carvitt says her mother continues to enjoy their company and "lights up" when they come into her room.
Howe no longer communicates with her daughters or with medical staff over whether she wants to stay alive. But in January, doctors asked the hospital's end-of-life committee for permission to overrule Carvitt's wishes and shut down Howe's ventilator.
A judge supported Carvitt in her role as Howe's health-care proxy. He suggested to Carvitt, however, that she switch her focus from thinking about "her mother's wishes" to thinking about "her best interests".
After a 3 1/2 hour closed-door meeting with hospital officials on Friday, Carvitt agreed to allow her mother's ventilator to be unplugged by June 30.
A press release issued jointly by attorneys for both the hospital and the family, stated: "The hospital acknowledges that the family has acted out of love for their mother, and the family acknowledges that the hospital has acted with similar concern for their patient, and that Barbara would not have received better care anywhere else."
No details of the agreement were given out of respect for Howe's privacy.
Legal and ethical experts agree that this case is unusual in that a health-care proxy -- a relatively new legal designation -- representing an apparently conscious patient, disagrees with a hospital over that patient's treatment.
"ALS case drawing national attention" (The Enterprise)
"Hospital, family spar over end-of-life care" (Boston Globe)
"Hospital, family agree to withdraw life support" (Boston Globe)