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Bouvia Files Suit to Stop Hospital Force-Feeding

January 22, 1986|DOROTHY TOWNSEND and LOUIS SAHAGUN | Times Staff Writers

Elizabeth Bouvia, the quadriplegic cerebral palsy victim who lost a legal battle to be allowed to starve to death two years ago, filed a new suit Tuesday for a court order to stop a Lancaster hospital from force-feeding her.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge took her request for the temporary restraining order under submission and said he will rule on it today.

In her suit and in an interview Tuesday, the 28-year-old woman insisted that she no longer wants to starve herself and "has done all she could to consume an adequate amount of nutrition." Nevertheless, last Thursday doctors at High Desert Hospital inserted a nasogastric tube and began supplying her wasted body with 2,000 calories of nutrients a day.

Fighting back tears, Bouvia recalled from her hospital bed Tuesday how she tried to resist the force-feeding. "I tried to move my head," said Bouvia who is paralyzed from the head down. "I cried, 'Please don't do it; please don't do it.' "

She said their action followed repeated warnings that "if I didn't eat, they were going to force-feed me."

In court Tuesday, attorneys for Bouvia said she has not lost significant weight since transferring to the Los Angeles County facility Dec. 23. They said she weighed 74 pounds last August and just over 70 pounds when she entered High Desert.

Attorneys in the Los Angeles County counsel's office, representing the hospital, disputed that contention, however, and told the court that Bouvia weighed 90 pounds last September when she checked into County-USC Medical Center last September for treatment of severe and persistent pain.

"That's absolutely not true," attorney-physician Griffith Thomas, one of the ACLU volunteer attorneys appearing for Bouvia, insisted outside the courtroom. He said the hospital records show that she was never weighed there.

The county lawyers argued that force-feeding was initiated last week to save her life, that she was in fact slowly starving to death.

"She was in very grave condition (when the tube feeding was begun)," said Daniel D. Mikesell Jr., senior deputy county counsel. "Much of the problem with Elizabeth is that she has not really cooperated in allowing us to evaluate her condition until rather recently."

Bouvia's lawsuit contends that she has cooperated with doctors, both at High Desert and County-USC, ingesting as much liquid nutrient as she can tolerate. In her written declaration to the court she said she vomits each time she eats solid food.

'Punitive Environment'

"At no time in the past 1 1/2 years, and at no time . . . at USC or High Desert have I ever attempted to starve myself or threatened . . . to do so," she declared.

Her lawsuit alleges that from the outset of her transfer to the Lancaster facility she experienced "a demanding and sometimes punitive environment" from medical, nursing and administrative personnel.

"It appeared the goal was not to maintain (her) in a comfortable, hygienic situation," the suit says, "but was somehow aimed at her 'rehabilitation' "--something she had not sought.

'Somewhat Groggy'

Further, according to the suit, she was threatened that unless she cooperated a morphine pump inserted into her chest at County-USC for consistent daily delivery of pain-killing medicine would be withdrawn as a punitive measure.

From her bed Tuesday, Bouvia told a reporter that she has become addicted to the morphine and that her chronic nausea is exacerbated by it. She said she gets "somewhat groggy" but thinks clearly. Throughout the interview she expressed herself both articulately and brightly.

Philosophically, she said, she has not changed her mind about wanting to die and end her suffering. But she also said she is not prepared to involve friends or relatives in achieving that because of legal problems that might ensue.

Would Like to Leave

Attorney Jacqueline M. Scheck, also appearing for Bouvia in court, said Bouvia would like to leave the hospital and get an apartment of her own with nursing care under direction of a physician.

"Has she been barred from leaving the hospital?" Judge Warren H. Deering asked at one point. Mikesell said that Bouvia is in need of skilled care and that "no one else apparently will take her in."

While being force-fed in a Riverside County hospital in December, 1982, Bouvia asked to be allowed to starve herself to death. A Riverside County Superior Court judge refused her death wish, and Bouvia was moved out of that hospital the following April. She entered a Tijuana medical facility for a while and later stayed with friends in Hemet.

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