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Bouvia Loses Bid to Block Morphine Reduction

April 23, 1986|BOB BAKER | Times Staff Writer

Quadriplegic Elizabeth Bouvia's attempt to block a county hospital from weaning her from the pain-killing narcotic morphine was turned down Tuesday by a state appellate court.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal denied Bouvia's petition, saying it should have been filed with a lower jurisdiction, the Los Angeles Superior Court.

Attorneys for Bouvia said they will file a similar petition in Superior Court today, asking for an immediate court order to halt any cut in morphine dosage or the removal of a catheter through which the drug is administered.

In what was viewed as an important right-to-die decision, the same three justices ruled last Wednesday that Los Angeles County's High Desert Hospital in Lancaster, where Bouvia has been a patient since December, did not have the right to insert a force-feeding tube against her wishes.

Bouvia, a cerebral palsy victim who cannot care for herself, has attempted for more than two years to commit suicide by refusing to eat.

The hospital removed the tube on Thursday, but on Friday it began a gradual reduction in Bouvia's doses of morphine, a drug she has used since last November to ease the pain of cerebral palsy and arthritis. According to one of her attorneys, Richard Scott, Bouvia is "clearly addicted" to the drug and will suffer psychological harm from even a small reduction.

County officials, arguing that Bouvia's pain does not warrant a drug as strong as morphine, have told her that they plan to complete the gradual withdrawal in two weeks. They said that they informed Bouvia of their decision before the appellate court ruling and denied that it was in retaliation for the filing of her suit.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County officials said they are preparing to appeal the forced-feeding decision to the California Supreme Court, because of the unprecedented liability questions that would be raised if Bouvia committed suicide.

County Counsel Dewitt Clinton told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that while the law clearly allows terminally ill patients to refuse life support, "Bouvia takes another step into uncharted waters . . . in asking us to assist her in euthanasia."

He said that because few similar court cases exist and because assisting someone in suicide is illegal in California, the county might later be held liable for causing Bouvia's death.

Supervisor Kenneth Hahn criticized the court's ruling, saying the state "does not have the right to encourage a person to commit suicide. . . ."

"Government should not stand by and watch a person shoot herself or watch a person slash her wrist. Society does not tolerate that," he said.

The supervisors ordered Clinton to report to them regularly as he prepares his arguments against the court order.

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