Monday, September 18, 2017
Over the weekend, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced he was "directing" state agencies to "issue emergency rules to keep Floridians safe in health care facilities during emergencies." Arguably, this an example of locking the barn door after the horses have escaped. On the other hand, especially with another hurricane already looming, certainly no political leader wants to be seen as doing nothing.
There are some important questions -- that can perhaps be translated into lessons -- emerging from the most recent tragedy with eight nursing home residents perishing from heat related complications in Broward County Florida after Hurricane Irma.
1. Should States Mandate Specific Equipment? For example, Governor Scott is seeking a rule that mandates "ample resources" including a "generator and the appropriate amount of fuel, to sustain operations and maintain comfortable temperatures for a least 96-hours following a power outage." It should be clear, certainly after Katrina (2005), Harvey (2017) and Irma (2017), that some of the biggest dangers of extreme weather events ares not just the wind or rain or fire or other immediate impact, but the consequences of loss of power or other critical resources.
2. Can Inspectors Better Assure Compliance with Safeguards? Governor Scott's demands focus not just on the care facilities' obligations, but on the role of state and local officials to have a system of checks and balances to increase the likelihood the safeguards are actually in place and operable, and not "just" a written plan for the future.
3. What Safeguards Were Effective At Similarly Situated Facilities? News articles report some push back from providers to Scott's measures, who seem to be arguing feasibility and cost. But, certainly there were providers, faced with the same challenges as the Broward County nursing home, who were successful in protecting their residents. Perhaps the more important lesson to learn -- and learn quickly -- is what was affordable and effective?
Also, I think that there are some questions that can be raised about whether and how family members and the larger community might be able to help as part of a plan for disaster preparedness. Certainly not all, and perhaps not even most, families will be able to help in providing post-disaster assistance including temporary shelter. But, I think at a minimum, families would want to know what steps they might take to be part of the safety plan and post-event response.
In a case with sad facts, the lower court in Smith v. Smith certified a question to the Florida Supreme court as follows:
"Where the fundamental right of marry has not been removed from a ward [under state guardianship law], does the statute require the ward to obtain approval from the court prior to exercising the right to marry, without which the marriage is absolutely void, or does such failure render the marriage voidable, as court approval could be conferred after the marriage?"
During the guardianship proceeding at issue, apparently the original court had not specifically addressed the right to marry. In light of that fact, in its ruling on August 31, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court answered a slightly different issue, because it viewed the "right to marry" as being tied to the "right to contract," which had been expressly removed from the ward.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled that "where the right to contract has been removed [under Florida guardianship law], the ward is not required to obtain court approval prior to exercising the right to marry, but court approval is necessary before such a marriage can be given legal effect."
Counsel representing the wife of the incapacitated "husband," argued that, in effect, such ratification had already happened, during a proceeding where the guardianship judge had made comments treating the marriage as "fact." The Supreme Court disagreed:
Although the invalid marriage between Glenda and Alan is capable of ratification under [Florida law], it is unlikely that the Legislature intended for “court approval” to consist merely of acknowledging the existence of a marriage certificate and commenting on the alleged marriage, without issuing an order ratifying the marriage or conducting a hearing to verify that the ward understands the marriage contract, desires the marriage, and that the relationship is not exploitative. Therefore, we conclude the guardianship court's statements here were not sufficient to approve the marriage. However, the parties are not foreclosed from seeking court approval based on our decision today.
The ward in the Smith case was not alleged to be older or elderly; rather, the determination of his lack of legal capacity followed a head injury in a car accident. Recognizing the larger implications about validity of a marriage occurring during a guardianship, however, the Real Property Probate Section and the Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar and the Florida chapter of the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys submitted amicus briefs, arguing generally in favor of a ward's right to marry and urging the Supreme Court to approve post-marriage ratification by the guardianship court.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
As investigations begin into the report of 8 deaths of residents at a single nursing home in Broward County Florida three days after the region was impacted by Hurricane Irma, it occurred to me to look into post-Katrina legal proceedings involving nursing homes.
It turns out that very recently, in June 2017, the Louisiana Court of Appeals (4th Circuit) affirmed an award of $1,000,000 in damages for pain and suffering arising from one elderly woman's death at a nursing home four days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. The nursing home argued comparative fault on the part of the Corp of Engineers for its "negligent design, construction and maintenance of" flood control systems in the region. The Court of Appeals rejected the nursing home's arguments regarding "non-party fault" (emphasis added below):
Following our de novo review of the proffered and record evidence regarding non-party fault, we cannot say that but-for the conduct of the Corps of Engineers, Ms. Robinette would not have died from heat stroke on the second floor of Lafon five days after the City of New Orleans had issued a mandatory evacuation order.
The record shows that flooding at Lafon was not the cause-in-fact of Ms. Robinette's death. Only one foot of water entered the building, and that water receded quickly. Ms. Robinette was not harmed by the flood water. Ms. Robinette's cause of death was heat stroke and dehydration due to her exposure to sweltering heat for four days. And Ms. Robinette's exposure to those extreme heat conditions was caused by Lafon's refusal to follow its own Evacuation Plan, and by the inadequacy of Lafon's backup emergency power generator. But for Lafon's substandard conduct, Ms. Robinette would not have succumbed to heat stroke caused by the lack of electrical power.
Because the Corps of Engineers' conduct was not the cause-in-fact of Ms. Robinette's death, we find no fault by the Corps.
Monday, September 4, 2017
A recent article focuses on what is sometimes called "granny dumping," and the author urges states to examine carefully whether "abandonment" of a care-dependent person is addressed by the state's elder protection laws. Author Stephanie Rzeszut, a recent graduate of Hofstra Law, writes (footnotes omitted):
The only states that currently include elder abandonment as a form of elder abuse in their statutes are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Although each of these states includes elder abandonment in their statutes, each statute varies as to how they define elder abandonment.[For example, the] state of California lists elder abandonment as a form of elder abuse without defining or describing what elder abandonment actually is. Conversely, the state of Oregon defines what elder abandonment is under their statute as the “desertion or willful forsaking of an elderly person or a person with a disability or the withdrawal or neglect of duties and obligations owed to an elderly person or a person with a disability by a caregiver or other person.”***Not only do a majority of the states not include elder abandonment in their statutes, but there is currently no uniformity among each state's statutes for what constitutes elder abuse in general. This is problematic because in some states a caregiver may not be prosecuted for elder abuse or not prosecuted for committing elder abandonment when it has in fact occurred.
Monday, August 28, 2017
From Oregon, known for its "death with dignity" laws, the dilemma facing a couple who are learning the limits of the laws:
Bill Harris is blunt: For more than a year, he has been trying to help his wife die.
The 75-year-old retired tech worker says it’s his duty to Nora Harris, his spouse of nearly four decades, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2009.
“Let me be honest: Yes. It’s what she wanted,” he said. “I want her to pass. I want her to end her suffering.”
Nora Harris, 64, a former librarian, signed an advance directive after her diagnosis to prevent her life from being prolonged when her disease got worse. Now, her husband said, she’s being kept alive with assisted eating and drinking against her stated wishes.
For more of the story, read "Despite Advance Directive, Dementia Patient Denied Last Wish, Says Spouse."
August 28, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Clark County, Nevada has been at the center of serious allegations of abuse by court-appointed guardians, including "public" guardians, as we have reported here in the past. Most recently, the county was the site of a conviction and sentencing of a woman who was charged with theft from her "long-time companion," the incapacitated person she was appointed to protect.
Helen Natko was found guilty by a Las Vegas jury in April of theft and exploitation of a vulnerable person:
Natko raised suspicions when she transferred nearly $200,000 out of a joint account. Natko returned the money but that's when Del's daughter, Terri Black, tried to protect her father leading to a guardianship case.
"That began our 4 year odyssey of pain and sorrow that continues to this day for my family," says Terri. She says the most painful part was not having quality time with her father in his final days.
Although the prosecutor (and the protected person's family members) sought "prison time" following the conviction, ultimately the state court judge sentenced Natko to 5 years probation, a $10,000 fine and a bar on "gambling." Further, according to Las Vegas Contact 13 KTNV news reports, "she's disqualified to be a guardian under new laws passed" since the channel's investigation and news series exposed problems in the county's guardianship system.
For more see Contact 13: Guardian Sentenced to Probation. My thanks for the update from Rick Black, the son-in-law of the victim in this case. It's been a long haul for the family. Mr. Black commented, "We are satisfied with the [July 31, 2017] sentence. Although we wanted prison time, it wasn't in the statutes. Thanks to the many victim family members and advocates who came to support Terri [Rick's wife]."
Mr. Black is a volunteer with Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship (AAAPG), which was founded in Florida in 2013 by Sam J Sugar, M.D., in response to his own experiences in the Miami-Dade probate court.
My thanks to those who wrote to correct my earlier mistake in describing the history of AAAPG.
August 2, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)
Thursday, July 27, 2017
The inheritance system is beset by formalism. Probate courts reject wills on technicalities and refuse to correct obvious drafting mistakes by testators. These doctrines lead to donative errors, or outcomes that are not in line with the decedent’s donative intent. While scholars and reformers have critiqued the intent-defeating effects of formalism in the past, none have examined the resulting distribution of donative errors and connected it to broader social and economic inequalities. Drawing on egalitarian theories of distributive justice, this Article develops a novel critique of formalism in the inheritance law context. The central normative claim is that formalistic wills doctrines should be reformed because they create unjustified inequalities in the distribution of donative errors. In other words, probate formalism harms those who attempt to engage in estate planning without specialized legal knowledge or the economic resources to hire an attorney. By highlighting these distributive concerns, this Article reorients inheritance law scholarship to the needs of the middle class and crystallizes distributive arguments for reformers of the probate system.
When I teach Wills, Trusts & Estates, I always include a few of the latest news articles or case reports that focus on LegalZoom or other, less high-profile on-line document drafting venues that are used directly by consumers. Alex's article examines the implications of formalism for this important reality. Thanks, Alex!
Friday, July 21, 2017
In the latest chapter of an ongoing dispute between a specialized care facility, Melmark, Inc., and the older parents of a disabled adult son, Pennsylvania's intermediate Superior Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the parents.
The July 19, 2017 appellate decision in Melmark v. Schutt is based on choice of law principles, analyzing whether New Jersey's more limited filial support law or Pennsylvania's broader filial law controlled. If applied, New Jersey law "would shield the [parents] from financial responsibility for [their son's] care because they are over age 55 and Alex is no longer a minor." By contrast, "Pennsylvania's filial support law...would provide no age-based exception to parental responsibility to pay for care rendered to an indigent adult child."
The parents and the son were all, as stipulated to the court, residents of New Jersey. New Jersey public funding paid from the son's specialized care needs at Melmark's Pennsylvania facility for some 11 years. However, when, as part of a "bring our children home" program, New Jersey cut the funding for cross-border placements, the parents, age 70 and 71 year old, opposed return of their 31-year old son, arguing lack of an appropriate placement. Eventually Melmark returned their son to New Jersey against the parents' wishes, with an outstanding bill for unpaid care totaling more than $205,000, incurred over his final 14 months at Melmark.
Both the Pennsylvania trial and appellate courts ruled against the facility, concluding that "the New Jersey statutory scheme reflects a legislative purpose to protect its elderly parents from financial liability associated with the provision of care for their public assistance-eligible indigent children under the present circumstances." The courts rejected application of Pennsylvania's law as controlling.
This is a tough case, with hard-line positions on the law staked out by both sides. One cannot expect facilities to provide quality care for free. On the other side, one can empathize with families who face limited local care choices and huge costs.
Ultimately, I anticipate these kinds of cross-border "family care and cost" disputes becoming more common in the future for care-dependent family members, as the impact of federal funding cuts trickle down to states with uneven resources of their own. Some of these problems won't see the courtroom, as facilities will likely resist any out-of-state placement where payment is not guaranteed by family members, old or young.
July 21, 2017 in Consumer Information, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Housing, Medicaid, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, July 10, 2017
The ABA Commission on Law & Aging and the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology have released a report, Restoration of Rights in Adult Guardianship: Research & Recommendations. The report is divided into four parts: (1) introduction & background, (2) research on restoration of rights, (3) discussion & recommendations on key issues to restoration, and (4) conclusion. The report runs 69 pages and is available for download as a pdf. Section 3 covers a number of topics, including lack of knowledge of the availability of restoration, review by courts re: continuing need for guardianship, court access, attorney representation (and the attorney's role), the guardian's role, supports available to the person, evidence and evidentiary standards, and data and research. Here is the conclusion
The time is ripe for restoration of rights to be become a viable option for people subject to guardianship. In the context of the emergent paradigm of supported decision-making, restoration can be a path to self-determination and choice. For courts, attention to restoration can weed out unnecessary cases from dockets, allowing a stronger focus on problems needing judicial intervention, and saving administrative costs of carrying unnecessary cases.
To make restoration work:
• State legislation must ensure sufficient notice that the option exists, provide for regular court review of the continuing need for guardianship, afford the right to counsel, and set workable evidentiary standards.
• Courts must assess cases for possible restoration, find ways to make individuals and families more aware of the option, make the process more accessible, take into account available supports in making determinations, and track data on restoration.
• Guardians must perceive their role as enhancing self-determination and working toward termination of guardianship with sufficient support – more as "supporters" guided by the person’s expressed wishes if possible. There must be sufficient legal decision-making tools, family supports, technological supports, and community supports readily available to bolster functional abilities.
• Lawyers must recognize and act on the potential of restoration in guardianship cases.
This study has set the stage for such actions, bringing to life the possibility that guardianship is not automatically an end but can be "a way station and not a final destination."
July 10, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 19, 2017
The Denver Post reported recently that the Denver DA and the Denver Police are taking steps to combat elder and vulnerable adult abuse. Denver DA, police form units to protect elderly, developmentally disabled explains that the DA has created a division within the office on elder abuse. As well the Chief of Denver PD has established a special victims unit for elders and vulnerable adults who are victims of abuse. The DA's division "will focus on physical abuse and neglect crimes against at-risk adults aged 70 or older, as well as adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities ... [as well as] prosecute financial fraud cases that target at-risk adults." The PD unit will work together with DA investigators and social workers to investigate reports.
Colorado uses age 70 for victims of elder abuse, and the law includes mandatory reporting. The law seems to be having a positive effect, based on the statistics in the article: "the number of Denver police investigations related to at-risk adults climbed adults climbed 271 percent from 228 to 847 cases between 2013 and 2016, according to department statistics. Elder abuse cases make up the bulk of the cases. Police investigated 735 elder abuse cases in 2016, a 418 percent increase above the 142 cases investigated in 2013."
Sunday, June 4, 2017
The New York Times ran an article giving an update on California's aid-in-dying law. The numbers are not from state officials but come from Compassion in Choices. They report "at least 504 terminally ill Californians have requested a prescription for life-ending drugs since a state law allowing physician-assisted deaths went into effect in June 2016... [representing] ... those who have contacted Compassion & Choices...." The article notes that once the state publishes the required data there will be a more accurate picture of the law's application. The article also references the number of facilities that have written policies on recognizing the prescriptions. The article also reminds us that a lawsuit had been filed some time back to challenge the law, with a hearing scheduled for June 16, 2017.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
As I reported here for the first time recently, Pennsylvania's Governor Wolf has proposed consolidation -- or as he prefers to call it -- unification -- of four separate administrative agencies, the Departments of Aging, Health, Human Services (formerly Public Welfare) and Drug & Alcohol Treatment Programs. Are similar budget-driven changes occurring in your state?
As I catch up with events in Pennsylvania, I'm learning from readers about growing concerns about the possible merger.
- As one recently retired PA legislator pointed out, there seems to be little in the way of a written plan for how services will be handled under this merger. Rather, the merger appears mostly as a description of budget items, with a lot of "minus" signs to indicate cuts. Perhaps by design, Pennsylvania government is often a bad example of transparency for governments. What is the real plan, if any?
- With the consolidation, at a minimum, older Pennsylvanians would be losing a cabinet level post, their singular, dedicated spokesperson. This would be likely to affect all future budget and programming battles.
- The timing is, to use a favorite Trump adjective, "sad." While the leading edge of the big wave of aging baby boomers began to be felt a few years ago when those born in in 1945 started turning age 65 in 2010, the "real" need for an effective advocate is when boomers start turning age 75, age 80 and so on, the higher ages when they are more likely to need or question access to services.
Perhaps of greatest significance is the potential impact of consolidation on the process for assessment of need for services and assistance, especially Medical Assistance.
Under the current allocation of resources, "assessment" of need is handled by individuals employed under the authority of Pennsylvania's Department of Aging.
However, the financial allocations are currently determined under the authority of the Department of Human Services. Consolidation might make sense on paper, but wait!
As one of my mentors in aging, Northern Ireland's former Commissioner of Older People Claire Keatinge, says, to be helpful, fair and effective, any individual assessment of need for health care, social care and security, should be exactly that -- individualized and focused on the client, and should not be simply a match to "what services (if any) are available." That process-based distinction is critical to determining current and future funding priorities.
In Pennsylvania, the lion's share of budget and personnel for aging services has long been housed in the Department of Human Services (formerly Public Welfare), but those workers -- perhaps by necessity and perhaps by design, have often functioned as dedicated bean counters, as in "here's what services we fund, so do you or don't you meet the eligibility criteria?"
By losing the aging assessment focus of the current Department of Aging, it seems likely the state would compromise, and perhaps lose entirely, the independent thinking and opportunity for critical needs-based assessment.
Several elder-focused organizations have raised these and other key points in opposition to the existing budget-based consolidation proposal. Those active in the debate include:
- The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (PAELA) has asked thoughtful legislators to "oppose such consolidation" as presented in the current budget proposal. As Pittsburgh Elder Law attorney Julian Gray testified on May 1 in state Senate hearings, a "bigger" agency is not necessarily a "better" agency.
- Representatives for the service organization for Pennsylvania senior service workers, P4A, testified strongly in favor of the role of the Department of Aging as the advocate for the "unique needs of seniors." Speakers focused too on the Department's historical role in protecting and managing a unique funding stream dedicated to seniors, "lottery" funds.
- Long-time practitioner and elder law guru, Jeff Marshall, has a comprehensive commentary, with links, detailing the history and importance of Pennsylvania's Department of Aging. There's a simple bottom line expressed here -- "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
- Related articles
Monday, May 22, 2017
In what is described as a "first" for the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), the organization through its New York Chapter will present argument on behalf of individuals seeking to establish access to "aid in dying." On April 27, the New York Chapter was granted leave to appear as amicus curiae in Myers v. Schneiderman before the New York Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are scheduled in Albany on May 30, 2017.
At issue is New York's penal law prohibiting assistance in "suicides." The original suit, filed in February 2015, sought a ruling that the statute, characterized by opponents as "antiquated," should be interpreted as not reaching the conduct of a physician that provides aid-in-dying where the patient is terminally ill and mentally competent and voluntarily seeks "terminal medication." Alternatively, the opponents of the law argue that the statute violates the rights of privacy and/or equal protection guaranteed by the New York State Constitution. New York's trial level court dismissed the challenge as a matter of law, on the grounds that New York's penal law was "clear on its face."
In joining the challenge to the dismissal, which was affirmed by appellate division, New York NAELA wrote:
As an organization of lawyers who represent the elderly and persons with disabilities, the New York Chapter [of NAELA] believes that a proper interpretation of New York's "assisted suicide" laws and due consideration of Appellants' constitutional challenges should be based on a fully developed factual record. These are issues of great moment to the elderly and those who love them and to the administration of justice in this State. This Court should have the benefit of a hearing and findings of relevant evidence before deciding them. . . .
What would assist this Court in fairly construing the Penal Law are facts relating to aid-in-dying. While the language of the statute is the starting point for interpretation, its words do not exist in a vacuum.
For more on the arguments, including links to the various parties' appellate briefs in Myers, see the "End of Life Liberty Project."
May 22, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, April 16, 2017
The New York Times ran a story a few days ago about preventing financial exploitation. Declaring War on Financial Abuse of Older People starts with the story of a woman who acts when she finds out her grandmother had lost her life savings. (Just fyi, her grandmother's case was featured in a story in the New York Times in 2015). The woman didn't stop with just her grandmother's case, however. First she pushed to get action for her grandmother. Then, the story explains, she "[became] an activist, traveling around her home state of Washington to lecture and testify about the financial exploitation of older Americans. She has also become a lobbyist, exhorting state lawmakers to pass legislation that would toughen penalties for people who take financial advantage of vulnerable older people like her grandmother."
The article notes the variations among state financial exploitation statutes and how some states don't have specific elder financial exploitation statutes
A number of states have laws like this on the books, but they vary widely. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks such laws, this type of financial abuse is an active topic in state capitals. Last year, 33 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, considered measures against the illegal or improper use of seniors’ money, property or assets, in addition to fraud or identity theft targeting the older people.
Some states have shored up their existing laws. Last year, Idaho revised its definition of neglect of vulnerable adults to include exploitation. Illinois extended the statute of limitations to seven years from three for prosecuting a person accused of taking financial advantage of an older person or a person with disabilities.
Also, last year, Alabama passed the Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation Act, to add a layer of protection to existing laws by requiring brokers and investment advisers who believe a vulnerable adult is being exploited to notify the Human Resources Department and the Alabama Securities Commission.
In those states without the specific statutes, convictions come with lesser penalties than those with specific elder financial exploitation statutes. "Stiffer penalties are necessary to combat a growing drain on the savings of those 60 and over, according to the National Center for Elder Abuse, a federal clearinghouse. In 2015, in Washington state alone, there were nearly 8,000 complaints to adult protective services about financial exploitation, a more than 70 percent increase over 2010. And such crimes are likely to climb simply because the retiree population is growing."
The article also discusses efforts at the federal level, including the Elder Justice Act and the efforts of the Department of Justice.
Thanks to Professor Naomi Cahn for bringing the article to our attention. Congratulations to Naomi and her co-author Amy Ziettlow on the publication of their book, Homeward Bound: Modern Families, Elder Care, and Loss.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Paula Span, the thoughtful columnist on aging issues from the New York Times, offers "Gorsuch Staunchly Opposes "Aid-in-Dying." Does It Matter?" The article suggests that the "real" battle over aid-in-dying will be in state courts, not the Supreme Court.
I'm in the middle of reading Judge Gorsuch's 2006 book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. There are many things to say about this book, not the least of which is the impressive display of the Judge's careful sorting of facts, legal history and legal theory to analyze the various advocacy approaches to end-of-life decisions, with or without the assistance of third-parties.
With respect to what might reach the Supreme Court Court, he writes (at page 220 of the paperback edition):
The [Supreme Court's] preference for state legislative experimentation in Gonzales [v. Oregon] seems, at the end of the day, to leave the state of the assisted suicide debate more or less where the Court found it, with the states free to resolve the question for themselves. Even so, it raises interesting questions for at least two future sorts of cases one might expect to emerge in the not-too-distant future. The first sort of cases are "as applied" challenges asserting a constitutional right to assist suicide or euthanasia limited to some particular group, such as the terminally ill or perhaps those suffering grave physical (or maybe even psychological) pain....
The second sort of cases involve those like Lee v. Oregon..., asserting that laws allowing assisted suicide violate the equal protection guarantee...."
While most of the book is a meticulous analysis of law and policy, in the end he also seems to signal a personal concern, writing "Is it possible that the Journal of Clinical Oncology study is right and the impulse for assistance in suicide, like the impulse for old-fashioned suicide, might more often than not be the result of an often readily treatable condition?"
My thanks to New York attorney, now Florida resident, Karen Miller for pointing us to the NYT article.
February 28, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Religion, Science, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, February 23, 2017
North Carolina Appeals Ct Declines to Recognize Pre-Death Cause of Action for Tortious Interference with Expectancy
An interesting decision addressing standing issues arising in the context of a family battle over an 87-year old parent's assets was issued by the North Carolina Court of Appeals on February 21, 2017. In Hauser v Hauser, the court nicely summarizes its own ruling (with my highlighting below):
This appeal presents the issues of whether (1) North Carolina law recognizes a cause of action for tortious interference with an expected inheritance by a potential beneficiary during the lifetime of the testator; and (2) in cases where a living parent has grounds to bring claims for constructive fraud or breach of fiduciary duty such claims may be brought instead by a child of the parent based upon her anticipated loss of an expected inheritance. [Daughter] Teresa Kay Hauser (“Plaintiff”) appeals from the trial court's 3 March 2016 order granting the motion to dismiss of [Son] Darrell S. Hauser and [Son's Wife] Robin E. Whitaker Hauser (collectively “Defendants”) as to her claims for tortious interference with an expected inheritance, constructive fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty as well as her request for an accounting. Because Plaintiff's claims for relief are not legally viable in light of the facts she has alleged, we affirm the trial court's order.
The succinct North Carolina opinion, declines to follow the logic of Harmon v. Harmon, a 1979 decision from the Maine Supreme Court, that addressed the "frontier of the expanding field" on torious interfence of with an advantageous relationship, by recognizing a "pre-death" cause of action.
Currently the North Carolina opinion is available on Westlaw at 2017 WL 672176; I'll update this post with a open access link if it becomes available.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
The deeply disturbing medical practice history of Christopher Duntsch, who worked as a neurosurgeon in Texas until 2013, culminated in his February 2017 conviction and sentence of life in prison for his injuries to a 74-year old patient. It is relatively rare for medical "malpractice" cases to lead to criminal charges, but as detailed in news articles covering the trial, there was strong, adverse medical testimony about how Duntsch's improper surgical procedures caused a horrific outcome.
Initially accusing Duntsch of criminal acts arising in the context of surgical procedures to several of his patients, the prosecution ultimately focused the criminal trial on his 2012 spinal surgery on a single patient under Texas Penal Code Section 22.04, for "Injury to a Child, Elderly Individual, or Disabled Individual." The pertinent portion of the statute provides:
"(a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence, by act . . . causes to a . . . elderly individual . . . : (1) serious bodily injury."
The offense becomes a first degree felony, if it is proven that the conduct was "committed intentionally or knowingly." If the conduct had been "only" reckless, the offense would be a felony of the second degree.
Under the statute, an "elderly individual" is defined as a "person 65 year of age or older."
In a Washington Post article on the conviction, a Texas attorney is quoted:
“I cannot recall a physician being indicted for aggravated assault for acts committed during surgery,” Toby Shook, a Dallas defense attorney who spent 23 years working as a Dallas County prosecutor, told the magazine. “And not just Dallas County — I don’t recall hearing about it anywhere.”
Monday, February 20, 2017
George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn recommended an interesting new article from the Elder Law Journal, "The Precarious Status of Domestic Partnerships for the Elderly in a Post-Obergefell World."
Authors Heidi Brady, who is clerking for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Professor Robin Fretwell Wilson from the University of Illinois College of Law, team to analyze key ways in which elderly couples in domestic partnerships may be treated differently, and sometimes more adversely, than same sex couples who are married. From the abstract:
Three states face a particularly thorny question post-Obergefell [v. Hodges, the Supreme Court's 2015 decision recognizing rights to marry]: what should be done with domestic partnerships made available to elderly same-sex and straight couples at a time when same-sex couples could not marry. This article examines why California, New Jersey, and Washington opened domestic partnerships to elderly couples. . . . This Article drills down on three specific obligations and benefits tied to marriage -- receipt of alimony, Social Security spousal benefits, and duties to support a partner who needs long-term care under the Medicaid program -- and shows that entering a domestic partnership rather than marrying does not benefit all elderly couples; rather, the value of avoiding marriage varies by wealth and benefit.
Thank you, Naomi, for this recommendation.
February 20, 2017 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, February 17, 2017
As we have discussed often on this Blog, one key issue in guardianships can be the right of access between third persons and the protected ward. Arizona has adopted a new rule expressly permitting individuals with "significant relationships" with a ward to petition the court for access if the appointed guardian is denying contact. A key section of the new law, adding Arizona Rev. Statutes Section 14-1536, effective as of January 1, 2017, provides:
"A person who has a significant relationship to the ward may petition the court for an order compelling the guardian to allow the person to have contact with the ward. The petition shall describe the nature of the relationship between the person and the ward and the type and frequency of contact being requested. The person has the burden of proving that the person has a significant relationship with the ward and that the requested contact is in the ward's best interest."
In deciding whether to grant access the court is obligated to consider the ward's physical and emotional well-being, and to consider factors such as the wishes of the ward "if the ward has sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent choice," whether the requesting person has a criminal history or a history of domestic or elder abuse, or has abused drugs or alcohol. The new law also gives the ward the direct right to petition for contact with third persons.
"Significant relationship" is defined in the statute as meaning "the person either is related to the ward by blood or marriage or is a close friend of the ward as established by a history of pattern and practice."
The Arizona guardianship law was also amended to mandate that guardians notify "family members" when an adult ward is hospitalized for more than 3 days or passes away. Section 14-1537 provides notice shall be given to the ward's spouse, parents, adult siblings and adult children, as well as to "any person who has filed a demand for notice."
I have also run into the issue of access where the care for the incapacitated person is being provided by means of family member or third person acting through a "power of attorney." Sadly, in some states, the access issue triggers a full blown guardianship proceeding. Should a similar "significant relationship" test be used to provide a court petition-system outside of guardianships?
February 17, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, January 13, 2017
The plight of 108-year-old Ohio resident Carrie Rausch, facing the prospect of losing her spot in an assisted living community because she's run out of money, is generating a lot of attention in the media, including People magazine. Some states, such as New Jersey, have expanded the options for public assistance in senior living -- beyond nursing homes -- to permit eligible individuals to use Medicaid for residential care. Assisted living is usually much less expensive than a nursing home; but the pool of individuals who would might opt for assisted living rather than the "dreaded" nursing home is also larger. Ohio, along with many states, hasn't gone the AL route:
If Rausch can’t raise the money needed, she’ll have to leave what has been her home for the past three years and move into a nursing home that accepts Medicaid.
[Daughter] Hatfield worries about the toll the move would take on her mom, who is more lively and active than most people 10 or even 20 years her junior. . . . “We need a miracle,” she says.
Ms Rausch's adult daughter -- herself in her late 60s -- has turned to GoFundMe to attempt to raise the $40k needed for a year of continued residence, and as of the date of this Blog post, more than 700 donors have responded.
At a deeper level, however, this story reveals important questions about public funding for long-term care on a state-by-state basis. This funding issue is repeating itself throughout the country for seniors much younger than the frugal and relatively healthy Carrie Rausch. On a national basis, GoFundMe "miracles" seem an impractical solution.