The Minnesota Supreme Court will decide whether guardians have the legal authority to take their wards off life support.
The high court agreed Wednesday to review the case of Jeffers Tschumy. That means the court will for the first time in nearly 30 years revisit an end-of-life issue that could affect many of the more than 12,000 Minnesotans under guardianship who don't have health care directives, the Star Tribune reported Saturday.
The key issue is whether guardians must receive a judge's approval to remove life support, or whether guardians already have that power.
Tschumy was a mentally disabled man with no family and no health care directive who had been under guardianship since 2008. He choked on food last year and was declared severely brain-damaged with little hope of recovery.
The Allina Health System requested that a judge allow him to be removed from life support, either by clarifying that his guardian had the right to make the decision, or by issuing an order allowing his removal from life support. District Judge Jay Quam denied the guardian's request for sole power to make that decision, but authorized the termination of Tschumy's life support. He died.
Quam wrote that guardians have a strong case to make end-of-life decisions under a state law that grants them the power to allow or withhold medical care, but he said the law does not specifically allow them to end life support. Until the Legislature decides to address the issue, he wrote, only judges or legally authorized representatives can order life support removed.
Last summer, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed Quam's ruling, reasoning that the final authority lies with guardians and that end-of-life decisions shouldn't be dictated by the court. The appeals court relied on a 1984 Supreme Court ruling.
The state attorney general's office, which weighed in with briefs supporting a mandatory judge's sign-off, is expected to do so again before the Supreme Court.