A hospital that kept a man alive against his wishes does not have to reimburse his estate $100,000 in medical expenses, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Edward H. Winter told his doctor he did not want to be resuscitated when he was hospitalized with heart problems in 1988. His wife had deteriorated after such a procedure, and he did not want to suffer the same fate.
His doctor even wrote on Winter’s medical chart that he did not want any extraordinary life-saving measures.
But after his heart slipped into a potentially fatal rhythm, a nurse revived him with a defibrillator, steadying his heartbeat.
Two days later, Winter suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side. He remained incapacitated until he died two years later at age 82.
His three surviving daughters sued Franciscan Hospital in Cincinnati to recover the $100,000 Winter incurred in hospital expenses in the two months after the stroke. His estate argued the medical staff should have foreseen that using the defibrillator might cause a stroke.
Thursday, the state’s highest court voted 4-3 to overturn a lower court ruling that had gone against the hospital.
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, writing for the majority, said “not every wrong is deserving of a legal remedy.”
“There are some mistakes … that people make in this life that affect the lives of others for which there simply should be no monetary compensation,” Moyer wrote.
Dissenting, Justice Paul Pfeifer said the lower court should have permitted a trial to give Winter’s estate the chance to prove its allegations that the hospital violated his constitutional rights and was negligent.
“Winter told his doctor that he did not wish to be subjected to certain medical treatment,” Pfeifer wrote. “Nevertheless, Winter’s instructions were not followed.”
The hospital had denied it was negligent, arguing state law does not allow a legal claim for an unwanted extension of life.
The lawyer for Winter’s three surviving daughters, William C. Knapp, said the ruling means “the right to refuse treatment is a joke.”
Winter’s estate could ask the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling, or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Winter was admitted to the hospital in May 1988 and released two months later. He lived with a daughter before entering a nursing home in April 1989, and died a year later.
Knapp said the medical bills consumed all but $15,000 of his net worth before he qualified for Medicare and Medicaid programs that paid the remainder of his hospital and nursing home expenses.
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