Guardianship and End of Life Decisionmaking

A few days ago an interesting case came out of Hennepin county.  See the article link: Guardianship and End of Life Case.  It involves a guardian who wanted to terminate life support from an incapacitated person.

Guardianship in Minnesota, What it Is

A guardianship involves two parties.  The ward, who is the protected person and the guardian who is the court-assigned protector of the ward.

The guardian is a “guardian of the person”.  In other words, they have the authority to make decisions about the ward’s life.  The guardian is to use this authority in the least restrictive way possible to the ward.  The guardian is entitled to make some health care decisions for the ward.

Guardianship and Medical Treatment

In the Hennepin County case, the judge ruled on the narrow issue of whether a guardian has the power to terminate life support of the ward.  The court ruled that a guardian does not have such a power unless the Minnesota legislature specifically grants it to him or her.

This is interesting for several reasons.  Generally probate court judges can make this decision.  Also, guardians can make many health care decisions for the ward.  However, there are some situations, like this one, in which the guardian may not act.

The Take Home Message: Let Others Know Your Wishes

It can be difficult to predict what a court will do in situations like this.  If you are concerned about having your wishes honored, you should prepare all the necessary documents.  You will also want to let your family members and other people close to you know what your wishes are and where to find the documents.

In this case, the ward may have been well served by talking with his guardian and arranging a Health Care Directive.  He could have stated his end of life wishes and made sure they were honored.


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