In the Courts
Under the leadership of Compassion & Choices Director of Legal Affairs Kathryn Tucker, our past and current legal cases establish important principles of care and choice, and bring much-needed attention to end-of-life issues that affect us all. Learn about what we’re doing and have done in the courts:
Albuquerque physicians Katherine Morris and Aroop Mangalik along with Aja Riggs, a woman with advanced uterine cancer, are asking a New Mexico court to rule that the state’s statute against “assisting suicide” does not cover the medical practice of aid in dying. The case argues a dying patient who chooses a peaceful death is not “committing suicide.” The ACLU of New Mexico and Compassion & Choices represent the plaintiffs…More
Status: The case has been filed in New Mexico state trial court.
Compassion & Choices seeks monetary damages and an order that Kaiser Permanente ensure their providers respect patients’ treatment instructions. Emily DeArmond lived with brain cancer for most of her young life; it would not be long before the cancer ended her life. Finding her in distress one day, Emily’s parents brought her to a nearby Kaiser emergency room. They told the staff about her Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), which specified ‘Do Not Intubate,’ because they wanted to avoid any painful, invasive procedures in Emily’s final days. The emergency physician disregarded the order and forced a breathing tube down Emily’s throat, which she endured until she was transferred to another Kaiser facility. Only there did doctors withdraw it and allow her to die. This case is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation seeking to hold a provider accountable for not honoring a POLST…More
Status: The case has been filed in Orange County Superior Court, in California and is moving forward.
Michelle Hargett-Beebee, a 43-year-old mother of three, suffered from terminal pancreatic cancer. She enrolled with Vitas, the nation’s largest for-profit hospice chain, to control her pain and symptoms, and have a peaceful death. In her final weeks, Michelle’s family watched as she struggled with excruciating, almost continuous pain before dying in misery. Vitas should have told Michelle about her pain-management options, including palliative sedation. Compassion & Choices filed this groundbreaking lawsuit to establish that failure to tell a patient about palliative sedation falls outside the medical standard of care…More
Status: January, 2012: Good news. The court denied another in a series of motions by Vitas to dismiss large parts of the complaint.
Two Connecticut physicans asked the court to clarify whether the state’s “assisted suicide” law applies to aid in dying. Compassion & Choices helped represent the physician plaintiffs, but the case was dismissed by Judge Julia Aurigemma on June 2, 2010…More
Compassion & Choices was a co-counsel for this case, in which the Montana Supreme Court upheld the right to legal aid in dying for Montanans…More
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of choice at the end of life. In a 6-to-3 decision, the court ruled the Attorney General’s attempt to intervene in affairs of the state’s aid-in-dying law exceeded his authority….More
These Compassion & Choices-sponsored cases won recognition for dying patients seeking a constitutional right to pain-relieving medication even it results in death…More
Two terminally ill Alaskans challenged the state’s ban on “assisting a suicide” under the state constitution. The Alaska Supreme Court did not find a constitutional right to aid in dying…More
Compassion & Choices represented California resident Margaret Furlong’s son to make hospitals and staff accountable for following a patient’s written end-of-life wishes. The California Court of Appeals ruled that the issue was not the failure to give medical care, but the giving of unwanted care, dismissing the claim of elder abuse…More
Compassion & Choices assisted in representing the daughters of Frances Tolliver, seeking justice for the unnecessary pain and anxiety she suffered as she died in an Omaha hospice. The court found the hospice was negligent in their care of Tolliver. The award granted the family was upheld by the Nebraska Supreme Court in September 2009…More
This 2001 landmark case was a victory for rights of terminally ill patients to receive appropriate pain treatment at the end of life. The jury found in favor of Compassion & Choices’ client, awarding the family $1.5 million for punitive damages…More
This case led to a greater awareness for the medical community about pain relief at the end of life. Compassion & Choices succeeded in getting the defendants to settle out of court rather than face a large judgment against them…More
Compassion & Choices supported Dr. Joan Lewis, who faced the loss of her medical license for treating the pain of seriously ill patients. Dr. Lewis kept her license and still practices medicine in Albuquerque…More
Dr. Luke’s medical license was revoked by the state of California after administering morphine to ease a patient’s pain. Compassion & Choices helped reinstate the medical license of Dr. Luke, who had been unjustly punished for administering morphine to ease a patient’s pain…More