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Woman, 81, Loses Court Bid to Cut Off Life Support

January 01, 1986|DOROTHY TOWNSEND | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has refused to order a Covina hospital to disconnect an 81-year-old woman from a mechanical breathing device from which she has repeatedly asked to be removed.

In light of a declaration from the woman's primary physician that each time he has attempted to wean her from the respirator she has "gone into respiratory distress and requested to be placed back on the ventilator," Judge Norman L. Epstein denied the request of the family's lawyer.

"I have to assume that what he is connoting (from her behavior when taken off the machine) is a deliberate conscious communication to the physician to restore the device," Epstein said.

Daughters of Mary L. Lawrence said after the hearing that "that isn't what she is saying at all."

Request Made

"She has asked to be disconnected dozens of times," they said.

"I am very angry and very, very hurt," said Odella Sandow of Azusa, 63. "Why? Because I love my mother, and I don't want to see her suffer."

Lawrence was hospitalized at Intercommunity Medical Center on Dec. 1 with a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A tube was placed in her windpipe and hooked to a mechanical ventilator that has been deemed necessary to sustain her breathing, the lawsuit states.

From the moment it was attached, she has actively resisted it and has tried many times to remove the tubing, causing the medical staff to restrain and tie her hands, increasing her discomfort, according to the suit.

Richard S. Scott, attorney for the family, argued that Lawrence is fully mentally competent to make the determination about medical treatment and has a constitutional right to do so. In addition, he said, she has executed a "living will" not to be kept alive by artificial or heroic means.

However, Dr. Dale Kellon, Lawrence's attending physician for approximately one year, said his patient, though wanting to be removed from the respirator, does not want to die.

Attempted to Comply

He said he has attempted to comply with the woman's requests to be removed but believes it is his responsibility "to also comply with her request to be placed back on . . . when she requests that."

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