Judge: Minnesota guardians can’t end life support

Published 6:44 am Sunday, October 21, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — A Hennepin County judge has ruled that guardians can’t order their wards to be removed from life support.

The right-to-die ruling in the case of Jeffers Tschumy is the first time such an issue has been addressed in a Minnesota court. More than 12,000 Minnesota residents are currently under guardianship.

Last April, the 57-year-old Tschumy, who was mentally disabled, choked on food at a group home, could not be revived and was declared severely brain damaged with little hope for recovery.

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Allina Health System filed a motion requesting a judge allow Tschumy to be removed from life support either by clarifying that his guardian, Joseph Vogel, had the right to make that decision or issuing the order from the bench.

Tschumy’s family could not be located, and he had no health care directive.

Vogel’s attorney, Charles Singer, argued the inherent powers of guardianship allowed Vogel to disconnect life support. Mike Biglow, an attorney appointed to represent Tschumy’s interests, agreed Tschumy should be removed from life support because there was no evidence that he could recover.

In May, Quam authorized the termination of Tschumy’s life support, but denied the guardian’s request for the sole power to make that decision. Tschumy died. In Thursday’s order elaborating on his decision, he wrote that guardians have a strong case to make under a state law that grants them power to allow or withhold medical care. But only a judge or legally authorized representatives can order life support removed.

“Simply stated, if the Legislature intended to give a guardian the power to end the ward’s life, it would have explicitly done so,” Quam wrote. “The Court does not believe that the Legislature intended a subtle inference in a statute to bestow on 12,000 guardians around the state the most awesome power imaginable over the life of another.”

Biglow said the ruling was “well-reasoned and sound” based on current state law. He said it was an honor to represent Tschumy, whom he visited in the hospital.