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MN Guardian Can Remove Life Support Without Court ApprovalMinnesota guardian's duty to decline to consent to continuing medical treatment that harms ward.

MN Guardian Can Remove Life Support Without Court Approval

Does a Guardian Have Authority to Remove a Ward From Life Support?

In Re: Guardianship of Tschumy, A12-2179, Minnesota Supreme Court (September 17, 2014)

The Minnesota Supreme Court has recently issued its opinion in this case. The question before the Court was whether a guardian has authority to remove a ward from life support without seeking specific authority of the district court.

A professional guardian was appointed for Tschumy in 2008. He had no family and no spouse. In 2012, Tschumy choked on a piece of food and suffered severe brain injury and was left in a coma. His guardian sought to remove him from life support. However, the hospital petitioned the Hennepin County Probate Court asking it to either amend the letters of guardianship to give the guardian authority to end life support or to direct the guardian to remove of life support. The guardian agreed that removing life support was warranted but argued that he didn’t need the permission of the court to do so because he had the authority pursuant to the statute and the court order appointing him which allowed him to withdraw medical consent for treatment.

Minnesota Guardianship - Statutory Authority to end Life Support

The Probate Court agreed with the hospital and ordered the guardian to remove life support. Tschumy then died. Five months after the initial order the Court issued another order with a detailed explanation, stating that although guardians have broad power to withhold consent to medical treatment; they do not have the statutory authority to end life support without a court hearing and order.

The Court of Appeals reversed the Probate Court and held that the guardian has the authority to make end of life decisions without direction by the court.

Minnesota Guardianship – When Court Approval is and is not Needed

The Minnesota Supreme court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision, stating that a guardian who has the power to make medical decisions for the ward, does have the authority to authorize removal of a ward’s life-sustaining treatment, without court approval, when all interested parties agree that removal is in the ward’s best interest.

The Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether there is a justifiable controversy. Since the Ward has died, the parties no longer have a specific dispute. However, Minnesota guardianship statutes do not address this situation. A majority of the justices agreed that a decision from the Supreme Court will help clarify for the guardians and their wards the scope of the guardians’ authority to make one of life’s most fundamental decisions. The Court stated that the issue is “functionally justiciable” and that the case presents “an important public issue of statewide significance.”

You may find a more recent case that gained similair attention in the news. Read the medical, ethical and legal issues in severe brain injury as posted on PMC; the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Making moral decisions on the appropiateness of maintaining or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment is one of life's toughest decisions.

If you need legal guidance through a similiar guardinship situation, my experience on the panel for the Minnesota CLE in the above case can be of benefit. As you walk through the process of giving care and respect to a loved one on life supports, I can help. Call me at 952-270-8801.

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