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Brief Fact Summary. The Defendants, Robert Nejdl, M.D., and Neil Barber, M.D., were charged with murder after they removed a patient, Clarence Herbert, from life support. The patient’s family requested his removal, and the Defendants believed that Mr. Herbert would never recover.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A physician has no duty to continue treatment once it has proved to be ineffective.
The lack of generalized public awareness of the statutory scheme and the typically human characteristics of procrastination and reluctance to contemplate the need for such arrangements however makes this a tool which will all too often go unused by those who might desire it.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Are the Defendants liable for murder for removing a patient from life-sustaining treatment when the patient is in an indefinite vegetative state?
“There is no criminal liability for failure to act unless there is a legal duty to act.” While a physician may have a duty to provide life-sustaining treatment in the immediate aftermath of cardio-respiratory arrest, a physician has not duty to continue treatment, once it proves to be ineffective.
Here, the patient suffered irreversible brain damage as a result of cardio-respiratory arrest. Specialists indicated that the patient would likely permanently remain in a vegetative state. Hence, removing the patient from all machines sustaining his life was not murder, as the doctors were simply ceasing ineffective treatment.
Discussion. A doctor does not commit murder for ceasing life-sustaining treatment for a patient who faces an indefinite vegetative state and there is no living will or other instrument indicating a contrary intent by the pat