Bioethics Blogs

Yale Wins Appeal after Removing Life Support over Family Objections

On July 24, 2010, clinicians at Yale New Haven Hospital made Helen Marsala comfort care only over the objections of her family.  

Earlier, the hospital had repeatedly tried to get consent for their recommended treatment plan.  But ultimately the team consulted the ethics committee and proceeded without consent.

Helen’s husband asserted claims for wrongful death, loss of consortium, and medical malpractice.   Those claims are still pending before the trial court.  Helen’s five children also asserted claims.  

They sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) and negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED).  Specifically, they alleged that they suffered the following “serious, painful and permanent injuries: (a) severe emotional distress; (b) loss of opportunity to say goodbye; (c) depression; (d) loss of sleep; (e) stress; (f) anxiety; and (g) pain and suffering.’’

The trial court ruled against those claims.  In late June, the court of appeals affirmed.  Key to the court’s analysis is that none of the children contemporaneously witnessed the Hospital’s decision-making process and none was present when the Hospital made the ultimate decision to transition Helen to comfort care.

This case stands out as an exception to a general trend in which families have successfully asserted claims for NIED and IIED against hospitals that unilaterally withdrew life-sustaining treatment.

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.