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“Wrongful Prolongation of Life” Suit Dismissed In Indiana

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MAY 1, 2000 VOLUME 7, NUMBER 44

It has taken three decades to establish, but the notion of patient self-determination is now firmly entrenched in American law. A patient has the right to instruct that life-sustaining medical care be withheld or removed. To protect against future treatment, an individual can execute a living will and/or a health care power of attorney directing that care be withdrawn or withheld in future circumstances. But what happens when care providers treat the patient despite advance directives and against surrogates’ instructions?

Rebecca Jane Taylor was paralyzed on her left side and confined to a wheelchair after a stroke in 1992. She sought to prevent continued life support if she became terminally ill with no reasonable possibility of recovery. She gave her son Steven a health care power of attorney, and she even signed a form directing that a “do not resuscitate” order be placed on her chart at the Woodlands nursing home in Indiana.

In 1995, when Ms. Taylor suffered a second stroke and became comatose, her three sons met, discussed the situation and agreed. Steven Taylor signed the forms directing that his mother receive only intravenous fluids and that no tube feeding be instituted.

Two weeks later Ms. Taylor seemed to be responding to painful stimuli. Her attending physician directed that a nasogastric tube be inserted to provide both food and fluids, and the nursing home tried to contact Ms. Taylor’s sons.

Steven Taylor was at work that morning, and his wife promised he would get back to the nurse shortly. Rather than wait for Steven, the nurse called another one of Ms. Taylor’s sons, told him that his mother’s veins were collapsing and that she would die a terrible “dry death,” and got his consent. Shortly thereafter Steven Taylor contacted the nursing home and refused permission for the nasogastric tube. The attending physician decided he would break the apparent tie and instructed that the tube be inserted.

After Steven Taylor replaced the attending physician (and after the second physician increased Ms. Taylor’s tube feeding without informing family members), Ms. Taylor was moved to another facility. She died peacefully there ten days later, but five months after the Woodlands first violated Steven Taylor’s instructions as agent for his mother.

After her death Ms. Taylor’s estate brought a suit against the Woodlands for “wrongful prolongation of life.” The nursing home asked for dismissal of the suit, arguing that there is no such cause of action. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, insisting that Indiana law gave the Taylors their only remedy—they could have gone to court before their mother’s death to order the facility to comply with their instructions, but there was no claim for damages after her death. Estate of Taylor v. Muncie Medical Investors, April 20, 2000.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.