Should a woman be taken of life support?

CREATED Mar 4, 2014 - UPDATED: Mar 4, 2014

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CAPE CORAL, Fla. - A Life or death battle over whether an 88-year-old woman should be taken off life support at Cape Coral Hospital.
Hospital attorneys say she is in a vegetative state but her family believes she can still respond and claims they have the video to prove it.

It's extremely rare for a judge to have to decide whether someone lives or dies. That was obvious from sitting through two days of court testimony. But the issue here that's been taken to court and for a judge to decide, is she in a vegetative state and brain dead? And, should they take her off life support?

"Do you like that?" asks the woman's son. She nods. "There you go! Thank you mom. I love you so much". That's an 88 year old woman's response on a videotape taken from her bed in Cape Coral Hospital where she is on life support. She can't talk but can respond to some commands. "That to me indicates that this patient is not in fact in a vegetative state," said Claudia Volk, who is the woman's attorney. She is one of two attorneys fighting for the woman's life. The other is Daniel Endrizal. When asked what he saw on the videotape he said, "I saw someone who had problems communicating but was clearly cognizant of their whereabouts unlike the testimony. The testimony was that this person is in a persistent vegetative state".

But, if taken off life support, will she ever recover? "There's about a 100% chance that this person will not survive and this is futile" testified Douglas Newland M.D. He is a neurosurgeon with the Lee Memorial Health Systems. Four doctors testified in court Tuesday, all said about the same thing. "I've been doing this for 30 years," said Rahul Challapalli M.D. "In my experience I don't think I have seen anybody who's in this position at this stage going to recover". But Endrizal disagrees, "Didn't look like that to me. She was tracking with her loved ones, mouthing words".

Another issue is - what would be her quality of life? "If she did remotely survive it will be in a severe disabled state that most people would not wish to continue in," added Newland.

Then there's the issue of pain. "I honestly hope to God that she's not feeling the pain for what we are doing," said Rahul Challapalli M.D., also with the Lee Memorial Health Systems. "We poke her, we pry her, we have tubes there, we have operations there".

Now, Judge Michael T. McHugh will have to decide whether to take her off life support. "I think that before we pull the plug on this patient that further investigation needs to be done," added Volk.

That's what Volk has asked requested. So far, only Lee Memorial doctors have evaluated the patient. Tuesday, the judge ruled that the family can have it's doctor evaluate her. Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

In case you're wondering, the woman is on Medicare and Medicaid.