Judge decides not to "pull the plug"

CREATED Mar 5, 2014

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - A major development in the life or death battle over an elderly Southwest Florida woman. She's on life support at Cape Coral Hospital. Wednesday, a judge made a big decision in this agonizing case. Dave Culbreth broke this story last night.

Judges make decisions every day. But very few ever have to decide whether someone lives or dies. That happened in the Lee County courthouse Wednesday as one man decided whether or not an 88 year old woman should off life support.

He decided not to pull the plug. The issue is the hospital asked a judge to take her off life support, but the family didn't want to.

"For a hospital to arbitrarily to override some body's wishes, it's bad, it's really bad. I mean it's, you're bordering on euthanasia there, you really are," said the woman's son. He had a power of attorney appointing him as the one to decide whether to take his mother off life support. "What the big thing here is there was a health care surrogate but there wasn't a living will that was executed," explained Daniel Endrizal, the attorney for the woman's family. "In a proper plan you have to have both of those documents".

The woman has been in Cape Coral Hospital since November after being admitted for diarrhea. Last week attorneys with Lee Memorial Health Systems filed papers asking a judge to take her off life support, saying she is brain dead and in a vegetative state. The family argued that she is not, showing a video in court saying she can respond to commands.

Today Lee County judge Michael McHugh decided not to pull the plug. "He went to the statue and he said, 'No. He wasn't abusing his duties as health care surrogate and lacking a living will we don't know what Jane Doe would want to do so he did the right thing," added Endrizal.

"I'm glad we won," said the woman's son. "I think that if the hospital would have won their case it might would have set a precedent in the State of Florida at least that everybody could have lost their right to take care of their loved ones and make that decision".

"It's a loss," Endrizal said. "They used a lot of resources to get their goal and they didn't get their goal".

"It's not their decision," echoed the woman's son. "The power's been taken away from them and now it's in our hands which is where it belongs. Not in the hospitals hands". When asked what he's going to do now he said, "Well, if she doesn't get better then I might have to just let her go". When asked if he means making the decision to pull the plug anyway, he responded, "Yes. But the thing is I'm the one that's making the decision. A loved one that was put in that position".

In a statement Lee Memorial Health Systems Spokeswoman Mary Briggs said earlier in the day Wednesday: "This case is a reminder of the importance of having a Living Will that expresses your treatment wishes should you become sick or injured and unable to speak for yourself. Our team of experienced clinicians offer patients, caregivers and families emotional and spiritual support and provide education to help ease the stress when the family is weighing an end of life decision. This includes a review and consultation with the care providers to determine what is in the best interest of the patient".

FOX4 asked for an updated statement since they lost the case but haven't gotten one. It should also be noted that the woman is on Medicaid and Medicare.

Do you think the judge made the right call here? Tell us why when you call us at (239) 206-FOX4 or email us at; www.News@FOX4now.com.