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Posted September 18th, 2014 in Top Stories

Minnesota Supreme Court Allows Hospitals to Rely on Guardian Decision

Yesterday, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision that has been eagerly awaited by hospitals and others in Minnesota.  The court ruled in In re the Guardianship of Jeffers J. Tschumy, Ward that a guardian has the power to consent to termination of life support for a patient without the need for a court order, so long as there is no dispute about that decision among interested parties.

In 2012, a district court held that a court appointed guardian must obtain court approval before the guardian may consent to a patient being removed from life support, even if all interested parties agree that removal is in the patient’s best interest.  In 2013, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court, finding that, unless limited by court order, powers given to guardians under Minnesota statutes include the power to consent to removal of life support.

The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, confirming that the powers granted to guardians under Minnesota law are sufficient to allow removal from life support, when all interested parties agree that removal is in the patient’s best interest.  The Court expressed that its decision should not be viewed as prohibiting interested family members or employees of a hospital from looking to the courts if there is a dispute over what is in the patient’s best interest.  However, the Court stated that in the absence of any dispute, “court involvement adds little to the process” and will not be required before a guardian may order termination of care.

This is a significant decision for Minnesota hospitals as it reduces administrative burdens and enables them to focus on patient care.  For more information about this decision and other health law issues, please contact Heidi Christianson or Elizabeth Winchell.

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