Law Prevents Hasty Decisions with Patients

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Arizona lawmakers have added another critical step in the decision-making process for patients who are unable to speak for themselves - a step that could save more lives.

Tuesday, the state enacted "Jesse's Law," a bill that establishes a court process for families to secure emergency orders to continue feeding tubes and similar assistance on patients who cannot express their own wishes.

"Human life is valuable in its own right, and everyone deserves the chance to recover," said Gary McCaleb, Alliance Defense Fund senior counsel. "This law ensures that seriously injured patients will not suffer the consequences of a hasty decision that could result in death by starvation or dehydration."

The legislation is based on the 2007 case involving Jesse Ramirez, a Gulf War veteran who had been severely injured in an auto accident last May.

Ramirez had to have brain surgery. Less than two weeks after his final surgery, doctor's removed his feeding tube and sent him to a hospice facility. He nearly starved to death after his feeding tube was removed prematurely.

While it is unclear who made the decision to remove the life support, ADF attorneys stepped in to help Ramirez's mother and sister challenge the decision. They argued that the doctors who removed the support were unqualified under Arizona state law to make those decisions for the patient.

After five days without food or water, a feeding tube was re-inserted. Ramirez recovered and returned home in October.

"Jesse Ramirez's life was saved through legal intervention and the persistence of his family in seeking help from attorneys," a spokesperson for the Center for Arizona Policy said. The family rights group was a driving force behind Jesse's Law.

The spokesperson added that, "The law should not be a trap from which family members must fight to save the patient's life where there is not clear evidence of his wishes. Rather, the law should protect the patient's life while the questions about his wishes are resolved. (Jesse's Law) will protect patients and maintain the status quo when a dispute arises."

Sources: Alliance Defense Fund, Center for Arizona Policy

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