On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that legal guardians no longer need court orders to take a loved one off life-support, and FOX 9 News asked an attorney to explain the effects.
Bob McLeod, a guardian attorney with Lindquist & Vennum Trusts and Estates, argued the case before the court. He argues that unless there is a controversy, those close to a patient should be able to make the decision.
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The ruling assumes a guardian will work with medical providers to make the best, most informed decision for the ward in an "end-of-life" situation and courts no longer need to be involved in every single case.
The ruling does allow for the exception of a ward's known conscientious, religious or moral beliefs. Guardians are required to follow those in all circumstances.
The State Attorney General's office argued that end-of-life decisions are too important to be made by a guardian, who -- in many cases -- is most likely unqualified to handle life or death situations with respect to a ward. The state also argued that current law allows guardians to be pre-determined as qualified before such circumstances arise.
Q: Should the people close to the dying be allowed to say, 'the time is right,' rather than a judge?
A: That is fundamentally correct, and we were trying to determine -- and different parties were arguing: should every life decision be brought to the courts so that everyone can be heard in a typical due process hearing --or, is this a private decision that should be kept between the guardian, the family, and the physicians to keep the medical privacy and the convenience of not dragging a court system into such a personal decision?
Q: In this ruling, there were some assumptions. One: That the guardian will work with the medical providers to make the best decision in the case?
Q: But what about the attorney general's argument that most guardians aren't qualified to make the best end-of-life decisions, especially before those circumstances ever arise?
A: Well, it is a concern, but the fact of the matter is no one has particular training. Very often, Guardians are the children of a parent, son or daughter -- and quite frankly, the court doesn't have any particular training any better than anyone else. The simple truth is there are groups, organizations out there that provide training -- like Volunteers of America -- for guardians to give them some help, but what is more important is that the guardian act reasonably, work with the physicians and the family. This court decision mandates that the guardian talk with physicians, the hospital ethics committee and the family before making a decision.
Q: What if the guardian is unable to make that reasonable decision?
A: Everyone always has the right to go to court, to be able to seek the court's input or help the court manage the situation -- but the very first thing you want to do if you don't want to get caught in that situation is get a health care directive. It is a very simple document, it's a pillar of any escape plan, and the guardian is forbidden from violating your known conscientious, religious or moral beliefs.