California judge rules wife can end husband’s life support over sister’s objections

In dispute reminiscent of Terri Schiavo case, Los Angeles judge says state law makes spouse the presumptive healthcare decision-maker in absence of advance directive

Ana and Juan Fernando Romero. A judge ruled that Ana Romero was the presumptive healthcare surrogate for her husband once he fell into a persistent vegetative state (Courtesy of Ana Romero)

A Los Angeles judge has ruled that a spouse in California is the presumptive healthcare decision maker when the partner is in a persistent vegetative state.

Ruling in the case of a San Gabriel Valley man, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Thornton House said that in the event that there is no advance directive for a someone in a vegetative state, their partner can decide for them. California law, House noted in her ruling, has left “a gap” when it comes to this issue.

The case involves Juan Fernando Romero, who suffered a lack of oxygen to the brain in May 2015 that left him in a persistent vegetative state at a San Gabriel Valley hospital.

His wife, Ana Romero, in 2016 sought to remove his life support and feeding tube, saying he would never return from the vegetative state again. But his sister sued to gain control of the end-of-life decision from his wife.

The sister’s attorneys argued in legal papers the wife did not have the right to make the decision under the law and lawmakers in setting out the law had emphasized family consensus. Her attorneys argued that her brother did not want to die and it was against his Roman Catholic belief that life is sacred.

But House ruled the wife did have the right to make the decision for the father of their two young children, who is unresponsive to physical and psychological stimuli. “As his spouse, Ana is the presumptive healthcare surrogate for Juan Fernando in light of his incapacitation.” House wrote.

The case is reminiscent of the Terri Schiavo case in Florida in which her husband sought to disconnect life support and her parents fought him for years in the courts in a highly publicized and prolonged series of legal challenges.

In the Romero case, the judge noted the Juan Fernando Romero had discussed with his wife the issue of not prolonging death. “Not one member of Juan Fernando’s immediate family (mother, father, sisters) ever discussed with him what his wishes were if he was in a permanent vegetative state, bedridden, and unable to recover or communicate,” House noted of the testimony.

His brain function, she added, was limited to subcortical and that he would never recover.

While his family insisted he was still able to give them signs including a kiss, House, based on expert testimony, found otherwise. “As a result of the overwhelming evidence that Juan Fernando is incapable of any kind of conscious response, [his sister] Lilian’s beliefs that her brother is aware of her and communicating with her are mistaken.”

Six months into the legal fight, Juan Fernando Romero died last summer. But because of the larger legal issue, the case continued. House in her ruling noted that case reflected issues of “continuing public importance.”

“I am thankful for the judge’s ruling validating my judgment to follow my husband’s preferences for end-of-life care after doctors said he would not recover,” Ana Romero said in a statement. But she added the litigation “prevented me from honoring my husband’s preferences for his end-of-life care, so he needlessly lingered for another six months before he died.”

Full story at LA Times.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Catholic teaching allows the discontinuation of extraordinary means of keeping someone alive. It does not allow the removal of food (feeding tube) or water to cause someone’s death.

    • Anonymous says:

      The patient was on life support besides a feeding tube. He was brain dead. He was in a vegetative state. The patient’s family did not understand Catholic doctrine nor the patient’s medical state.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Why did this even go before a court? Of course a wife makes health care decisions for her incapacitated husband.

  3. I’m not an attorney. I believe this case clearly emphasizes the need for a properly drawn advance directve.

  4. Linda Maria says:

    Many people are too impressed with today’s scientific advances, and mistakenly believe they can selfishly manipulate and control God’s world, to suit their own needs! God has His own reasons, for all things, and we must respect Him– even if some things seem incomprehensible to us! Only God can make a life, and only God can take a life!

    • Anonymous says:

      While it is true that not a sparrow falls to the ground without your heavenly Father’s consent, it is wrong to say that God takes the life of aborted babies, murder victims, suicides, people who are euthanized.

  5. One can get a form to fill out from the American Life League, another pro life organization or office supply store. Have a pro life priest or person help you fill it out, have it signed by two people you trust who are not related to you and get it officially notarized by a Notary Republic. Then give copies to your family members, healthcare provider and maybe to the two signatories. The only costs should be price of the form, cost of the Notary and making copies. it should be under fifty dollars and can be done a little at a time.

  6. I was referring to an advance directive in my last post. It was in reply to Mike M. Whether or not ones hospital or medicare, etc. will follow ones directive is another whole issue, but at least no one can say they did not know ones wishes.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Beware of futile care theory.

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