Comatose woman ordered back on life support


Judge says patient’s brother has legitimate guardianship claim

FRESNO, Calif. – A judge ordered Wednesday that a comatose woman should immediately be placed back on life support, 12 days after a court-appointed public guardian had doctors remove the woman’s feeding tube and ventilator.

Fresno County Probate Judge Debra Kazanjian’s decision is a temporary fix to a complex medical and ethical dilemma that has entangled family members and county officials in a court battle.

The case has similarities to the high-profile struggle between family members who disagreed whether Florida woman Terri Schiavo should be allowed to live in a vegetative state. She died in 2005 after being taken off life support.

Janet Rivera, 46, of Sanger, Calif., has been in a coma since she had a heart attack in February 2006. For more than two years, Rivera’s husband, Jesus Rivera, made all of his wife’s medical decisions until a judge granted the Fresno County Public Guardian’s Office conservatorship of Janet Rivera in June.

Rivera’s health quickly deteriorated, and she was admitted to Community Regional Medical Center’s intensive-care unit on July 5, said Dr. David Hadden, the county’s coroner, public administrator and guardian.

On July 11, Hadden’s office decided to remove Rivera from life support, and it was reported that life support was removed July 14.

Hadden issued a statement this week that said Rivera had an “untreatable and irreversible condition” and that life support was removed “to prevent any and all suffering that she may be enduring.”

A second statement Hadden issued Wednesday said Rivera’s family members were supportive of the decision at the time.

But Rivera’s brother, Michael Dancoff, said Wednesday he was told Rivera would die shortly after life support was removed. He doesn’t want to watch his sister die of starvation and is fighting to have her placed back on life support.

Kazanjian’s ruling is a step in that direction, Dancoff said.

“I’m happy they’re giving her a second chance,” he said. “I’m happy we’ll get to prove she’s not on her deathbed.”

A hearing will be held Tuesday to better assess Rivera’s medical condition.


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