Connecticut Appellate Court to Rule on Medical Futility Case – Marsala v Yale

Few medical futility cases in the United States result in a trial court judgment much less a written opinion from an appellate court.  For example, New Jersey famously avoided issuing such an opinion in Betancourt v. Trinitas Hospital.  But the Connecticut Appellate Court may soon be issuing an opinion.

In July 2010, Helen Marsala died at Yale New Haven Hospital.  She had been transferred there after a lengthy stay at another hospital.  She had multiple organ system failure and was on a ventilator, dialysis, and artificial nutrition and hydration.  

At one point, clinicians weaned Helen from the ventilator.  Yale clinicians recommended that Helen not be reintubated.  Her husband, Clarence, disagreed.  So, the treatment team confirmed its plan with the ethics committee and with an independent physician.  

Helen’s family filed a lawsuit against Yale in August 2012.  Her husband’s wrongful death case is scheduled for trial.  But trial is stayed while the appellate court considers the appeal of Helen’s five children.  

The children’s claims are for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Notably, claims for NIED and IIED are the most successful in medical futility cases.  But that is usually where the hospital was not honest or transparent.  Here, Yale seems to have proceeded in an open and deliberative manner. Of course, a jury could still find that withholding life sustaining treatment over a family’s objections is outrageous and beyond the bounds of common decency.

But Helen’s children have other hurdles.  Yale filed its brief on Dec. 23, arguing that the NIED and IIED claims are unavailable for “bystanders” like the children.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.