Bioethics Blogs

Extreme and Outrageous End-of-Life Communication – Beyond the Bounds of Common Decency

I have read hundreds of complaints in end-of-life medical treatment conflicts.  But I have never seen allegations like those in Wilson v. University of Alabama Health Services Foundation.  

I teach the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress in my Torts class.  This is a textbook example.  The family is seeking $10 million in punitive damages.

90-year-old Elizabeth Monk Wilson was taken to UAB Hospital with a “full measures” advance directive.  The clinicians there disagreed with that plan and thought that only comfort measures were appropriate.  But the way in which they conveyed that to the patient is simply beyond belief.  Here are just a few examples from the complaint.

“You’re eaten up with colon cancer which is spreading and partially blocked your colon. You are going to die soon. You have lived your life. Accept your death.”

“Don’t you understand what I just said? Your mother is dying and we need to send her home. She is 89—let her die. She has lived her life and needs to let go and die. Our time and treatments will be wasted on her. She simply needs to die. She needs to accept it.  You need to accept it. We need to get her out of here and quit wasting everybody’s time.”

“I know what is best for you. When you code, the resuscitation attempt will break your ribs violently and cause you great pain and suffering. Why do you want to go through a violent procedure instead of dying? What is wrong with you? Your life is over.

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.