Health care providers can overrule a living will

February 28, 2019 - 3:30 am

By Amy E. Feldman, Judge Technology Solutions

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Was a doctor wrong to save a patient's life? His family thinks so.

A woman sued the hospital and the doctor who treated her husband before he died. Not because he died, but because they kept him alive.  

The man, who suffered from advanced Alzheimer's disease, had created a living will before he was incapacitated — a written, legal document that spells out medical treatments you want or don't want to keep you alive, as well as your other medical preferences, like pain management or organ donation.   

His living will said he didn't want any intravenous fluids or antibiotics if his condition was incurable. But after he was admitted, the hospital gave him antibiotics, prolonging his life and, according to his widow, his suffering. 

Is a doctor obligated by law to abide by your written wishes? In general, both the law and medical ethics say that a doctor has an obligation to abide by your wishes, but the health care provider can overrule it if the directive is against the policy of the hospital, the doctor, or if you are pregnant.  

But doctors can't just ignore it. They have to take steps to transfer you to another provider that will honor your wishes and can face legal action if they don't.