In a recently decided case, a California appellate court related the almost unbelievable tactics of a government official to attempt to override the stated wishes of a man, his wife, and his doctor regarding his end-of-life health care. Although the legal issue at stake before the court dealt with the question of whether the government should reimburse the man’s wife for attorney fees, the facts included within the decision show just how important it can be to have a thoroughly clear advanced healthcare directive (and preferably one created with the advice of informed counsel), as third parties may try to use unethical techniques to override a person’s stated desires regarding their end-of-life care.
Dick Magney’s AHC and Resulting Illness
Dick Magney created an advanced healthcare directive in 2011 which appointed his wife Judith Magney “to begin making health care decisions for her husband immediately, even while he remained competent and able to make them himself.” The directive specifically gave Ms. Magney, among other powers and directives:
“…full power to authorize, refuse or withdraw any medical treatment or to make any health care decision which is recommended or approved by a medical doctor, including but not limited to authorization for emergency care, hospitalization . . . and/or any other kind of treatment or procedure that, in my agent‘s sole discretion, my agent thinks necessary for my benefit and well being…”
In 2015, Mr. Magney was hospitalized with serious heart conditions, as well as other medical problems. His attending physician, Dr. Stephanie Phan, told him that even if she conducted “full court press” intensive medical procedures, he would have a low likelihood of success and a “really terrible quality of life.” As a result, Mr. Magney, Mrs. Magney, and Dr. Phan all agreed to not pursue the life-saving intensive treatment.
Humboldt County Steps in the Picture
Despite this unanimous agreement and the presence of the valid advanced healthcare directive, a public health nurse from Humboldt County Adult Protective Services named Heather Ringwald was assigned to investigate Mr. Magney after it received a report that Mr. Magney was being mistreated (where this report came from is unclear). Ringwald came and spoke with Mr. Magney and reported later that he was confused and gave conflicting information to her regarding whether he wanted the treatment or not. She also spoke with the doctor who confirmed the decision not to pursue treatment and the wife who produced the valid advanced healthcare directive. The fact that the advanced healthcare directive existed alone should have ended the proceeding, as it gave Ms. Ringwald the power to direct decisions since 2011 and there was no sign that this power was being misused in violation of California law.
Despite all of this evidence, Ringwald decided her organization should file an action with a California court demanding that the treatment be given. No notice of this action was given to the Magneys. Her report which was included with the action cited facts without giving any source for their authenticity, and, instead of basing her findings on Dr. Phan’s statements, Ringwald included only information she received from a separate VA doctor who had not seen Magney for months.
The Court Pushes Back Against Humboldt County
Both the original court and the appellate court found that Ringwald and the county agency acted improperly in filing its action, pointing out the impropriety of not including information from the actual attending physician as well as filing a report without source citations. After the Magneys themselves retained a counsel who filed a brief in response, the county withdrew its petition and Ms. Magney pursued her case for attorney’s fees.
While the damages to the Magneys here were not necessarily permanent, the facts here show just how important it is to have an advanced healthcare directive. Although the country agency wrongly attempted to override the valid advanced healthcare directive, this action was soon rectified once the Magney’s counsel responded with evidence regarding the advanced healthcare directive. Although there are some situations in which the government may in fact override an advanced healthcare directive, none were present here. Had a directive not been in place, the Magneys may have faced much more problems in keeping uninformed government officials out of the private medical decisions between them and their doctor.
See What a Pasadena Estate Planning Attorney Can Do For You
Christopher B. Johnson is an estate planning attorney in Pasadena, CA who has helped thousands of individuals and families over the past 18 years in creating and reaching their estate planning objectives, including the creation of advanced healthcare planning directives. Schedule a consultation with him today to discuss your estate planning goals.