Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

Judge reverses divorcing spouse's medical decision for husband

Many people who get married do not realize the full extent of the benefits and rights such a union creates. Without a document stating otherwise, a spouse is the first stop for decisions concerning the health and safety of an incapacitated spouse. This dynamic can change dramatically when one or both parties are contemplating a divorce and what was once a safety net can become a liability.

A man is on life support after a judge's order restored his life sustaining emergency treatment. After suffering a series of seizures and then a heart attack, the man was taken to the hospital in serious condition. The man's estranged wife of five years, with whom he is currently going through a divorce, ordered the hospital to remove all life sustaining treatment. After the treatment was removed, the man was able to breathe on his own and had brain activity. While the man's wife had the right to make such a decision under family law, a temporary restraining order reversed the her decision and the man was ordered to receive at least 60 days of treatment consisting of breathing and feeding tubes. The man's father was made guardian of his estate until he recovers.

Because of the authority given to spouses in instances of medical emergencies, it is advisable to have documents in place detailing medical wishes. Utah law governs much of a person's medical decision making ability. The act outlines how someone can appoint others to make medical decisions on their behalf and even goes as far as allowing medical professions to challenge someone's medical decision making process. Like prenuptial agreements these documents can be amended as family situations changes.

Source: WND, "No pulling man's plug for 60 days, court rules," Bob Unruh, March 29, 2014

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