At a Glance:

Compassion & Choices submitted an amicus brief in Greenberg v. Montefiore, a New York case about whether an individual can recover damages when a doctor provides unwanted medical treatment in direct contravention of an individual’s living will or designated health care proxy instructions. Our brief detailed the importance of advance care planning documents (like living wills and health care proxy forms) and why being able to hold doctors accountable for ignoring or violating those documents is critical in ensuring an individual’s wishes are respected at the end of life.

 On March 31, 2022, a New York appellate court issued an opinion holding that individuals can recover damages if a doctor provides unwanted medical treatment at the end of life. This victory ensures advance care planning documents are enforceable in New York and that there are legal remedies available when a provider ignores an individual’s documented end-of-life medical decisions.

Read the opinion.

The Details

Dr. Gerald Greenberg completed a living will (also known as an advance directive) and health care proxy form in 2011. In his living will, Dr. Greenberg specified that in the event of irreversible brain damage, he did not want to be provided medical treatment beyond that which would ensure his comfort. He named his wife, Ms. Elaine Greenberg, as his designated health care proxy, and authorized her to make all medical decisions on his behalf in the event he was incapacitated.

Dr. Greenberg subsequently developed advanced Alzheimer’s and no longer had the ability to make his own medical decisions. In November 2016, Dr. Greenberg was transported to Montefiore Hospital with severe sepsis. The hospital was provided with copies of Dr. Greenberg’s living will and health care proxy form. Ms. Greenberg, acting as her husband’s health care proxy, instructed the hospital to only provide comfort care and no other treatment.

 Despite the instructions in Dr. Greenberg’s living will, and despite the decisions voiced by his health care proxy, the hospital proceeded to treat Dr. Greenberg’s sepsis, administering antibiotics and other curative treatments on multiple occasions. As a result of this unwanted treatment, Dr. Greenberg lived an additional 30 days in immense pain and suffering. Had his living will and proxy’s requests been respected, Dr. Greenberg would have passed peacefully within a day or two.

 Dr. Greenberg’s family subsequently filed a lawsuit on his behalf against the hospital for the unwanted medical treatment he received at the end of life. The lower court dismissed the case, stating that Dr. Greenberg did not suffer any damages by being kept alive against his explicit wishes. Plaintiff subsequently appealed.

 Compassion & Choices submitted an amicus brief in support of Dr. Greenberg in December 2021. The amicus brief was submitted on behalf of Compassion & Choices, Stacey Gibson (an individual in New York who has executed her own advance care planning documents and wants those documents enforced if, or, when necessary), and Jennifer Friedlin (an individual in New York who was a designated proxy for her father with advanced Alzheimer’s, whose advance care planning documents were disregarded by hospital staff at the end of his life).

Our amicus brief focused on:

  • The history and importance of advance care planning documents,
  • The rights implicated when an individual receives unwanted medical care at the end of life, and
  • The importance of having a remedy available if those documents are disregarded or contravened.

On March 31, 2022, the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department issued an opinion reversing the lower court’s decision in Greenberg v. Montefiore.  As a result, Plaintiffs can now hold the hospital accountable for the pain and suffering Dr. Greenberg suffered because of the unwanted medical treatment.

This victory ensures that advance planning documents are legally enforceable and will be respected by doctors, and if they are not, that individuals can hold providers accountable for violating their healthcare decisions. Compassion & Choices fully believes in the autonomy of all people to direct their own end-of-life care and is working diligently to ensure that end-of-life decisions are respected by health care providers.