Wednesday, January 13, 2016
My Blogging colleague Becky Morgan suggested that our faculty readers share hot topics or videos they are using in Elder Law courses. Along that line, I'm using an excerpt from a Dateline NBC program (archived in part by NBC, although special arrangements appear to be required for copies) from several years ago, that provides a dramatic introduction to a number of age-related legal issues.
The program tells the story of Dr. Gerald Klooster and his family. In 1995, friends of the family became concerned when they learned that Dr. Klooster, once a practicing obstetrician in California who was forced to retire early from his practice as the result of a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, had an appointment with his wife to meet with Dr. Kevorkian, of "assisted suicide" fame. One son, also a physician, became so concerned that he made the decision to whisk away his father to the son's own state of Michigan, for safeguarding. That triggered a two-state custody battle, initially resulting in inconsistent court rulings. Eventually, however, Dr. Klooster was returned to California where he resumed living with his wife, Ruth, and regularly saw his other children and grandchildren. The NBC program shows Gerald swimming and interacting with his family members.
One night, however, emergency personnel were summoned to the Klooster home, when it was learned that Gerald had ingested as many as 60 sleeping pills and alcohol in the middle of the night. Ruth is the one who called the emergency personnel, but then also reportedly directed them not to provide certain life-saving treatments. She was relying on her husband's pre-dementia living will.
Gerald Klooster did survive, and the NBC program provides fascinating interviews with family members, and shows the couple sitting hand-in-hand. Did he knowingly attempt to take his own life? Did he do so because he was a physician and, as his wife put it, "didn't want to live the disease through?" Or did Alzheimer's prevent him from having the capacity to make any such decision? The saga was also detailed in a New York Times article, linked here.
Lots of food for discussion with this story. It introduces the limitations of advance directives or living wills; it encourages discussion about Alzheimer's as a "real" phenomenon; it provides a stage for discussing powers of attorney, guardianships and family caregiver roles, just to name a few topics still "hot" today. Plus, it offers historical perspective on recent changes in laws, including uniform laws on jurisdiction for protective proceedings for adults, and assisted-suicide laws, including the California law that became effective on January 1 of this year.
The Klooster Saga lasts several years beyond the NBC Dateline story itself, as Dr. Klooster did live with his wife in California for additional years, before spending his last 18 months in a nursing center. According to this San Francisco news report, he passed away at the age of 72 of natural causes, but, sadly, the break in the relationship between his physician-son and the rest of the family had not healed.