Guardianship: Removal of Life Support Systems

In In re Colyerl the Washington Supreme Court held that a guardian may exercise an incompetent’s right to withdraw life-sustaining treatment without prior court approval. As this was a case of first impression, the court promulgated guidelines for future cases to ensure that the rights of all parties are protected and that no criminal liability arises. In view of its decision in the recent wrongful life case of Harbeson v. Parke Davis and the value judgments implicit in the Colyer decision, a different approach is recommended here to further the goal of fully protecting the incompetent patient’s right to life.

Because of the complicated and interrelated issues affecting the right to life/right to die area, it is useful to note the scope of the Colyer opinion. The opinion is expressly limited to antidysthanasia, the removal of life-sustaining systems from an incurable patient, and is not intended to authorize euthanasia. The opinion does not deal with the definition of death, as Mrs. Colyer was not dead. Rather, it deals with the treatment of persons in a “chronic or persistent vegetative state” who have not signed a directive as defined under the Natural Death Act.

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Kristen M. Whitlock, Guardianship: Removal of Life Support Systems, 19 Gonz. L. Rev. 417 (1983),

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