CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
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.
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